3 Ways of Learning a Language Outside the Classroom

How you can improve your foreign language skills outside the confines of formal education

Matt Jones Ruiz
Dec 2, 2019 · 5 min read
How about learning over a cup of coffee or a tasty meal?

We all know how learning a language can be very useful and sometimes even lots of fun. Be it work, studies or just for the heck of it, there are a myriad of reasons for sitting down and putting in those hours of Spanish, Mandarin or German. At times though, it can seem as if however much you try to progress you’re just not getting anywhere.

The truth is that the traditional approach of getting yourself off the couch, sitting your backside down in a classroom chair and having a language figuratively thrown at your face is a process that can be lacking at best and detrimental at worst.

We’re all too familiar with the ouvrez-la-fenêtre phenomenon. All those years of learning French at school only to come away from the whole process with the deficient knowledge of a few simple commands and phrases which will come in very handy when you find yourself in the inevitable situation of having to boss around a bunch of snotty seven-year-old schoolchildren in a draughty French classroom. Open the window. Close the door. And wipe those obscene scribblings off of the interactive whiteboard while you’re at it.

And yet most of us will never have the pleasure or misfortune of finding ourselves in such a questionable situation as this (unless you are a French teacher, in which case you should probably be somewhat better acquainted with the language anyway). The point is we will never get to use those skills in which we invested so many hours of our childhood (cue sad face).

In any case, learning a language in the classroom doesn’t have to be a dismal and disappointing experience. And neither does it have to reap next to no benefits. Formal education is a means to an end and it shouldn’t necessarily be discarded or dismissed. If done properly the benefits can show. But we mustn’t forget that it is just another tool in the shed of language learning. Here we shall be exploring some of the other less explored tools at hand and, hopefully, inspiring you to delve into the shed and go dust them out a little.

1. Language Tandems

Tandems. Language exchange events. Call them what you will. If you have a Facebook account and live near a medium-sized city chances are you’ll find something of the sort online. These events tend to be set up by language tandem organisations or just by one or two people who know someone at their local coffee shop willing to lend them a few tables in exchange for some extra customers every Thursday or Friday. In some places there are even specific cafés and bars whose existence revolves around the whole idea. Like Språkcaféet in Gothenburg’s appropriately named Esperantoplatsen.

You can also check out events on Couchsurfing or Meetup.com if you are so inclined.

2. Cinema, TV and podcasts

Time to reach for the snacks

If your target language is relatively new to you then you can start by watching news bulletins, which tend to be more simple and straightforward, both in terms of pronunciation and grammar (unless it’s about Brexit, in which case good luck keeping up regardless). The same applies to podcasts.

Streaming series is also a great idea, as you can choose to watch a show in your target language with subtitles in that language. Try not to be tempted into changing the subtitles to your mother tongue or you won’t be practising as much as you think you are (unless you’re just starting out or getting a feel for the language, of course).

3. Apps

Yes, there’s more to the AppStore than Duolingo! This might be one of the top go-to apps for language learners but it isn’t the only one. Not to say you shouldn’t give it a go but let’s be a bit more original here. There are some other pretty popular smartphone apps out there designed specifically to meet native speakers of your target language. HelloTalk, Tandem Language Exchange and Speaky are a few that spring to mind. These apps work by pairing you up with other users who are fluent in the language you are seeking to practise and who also wish to practise the language that you can offer them.

This is just a succinct list of ideas which may or may not be of interest to you depending on your particular circumstances. There are many more useful tools to keep learning languages in interactive, engaging and fun ways. For instance, if you are living in a country where the main language is the one you are learning, then you are quite literally surrounded by an almost endless source of opportunities to practise. For those of us who aren’t, well, we’ll just have to make do with all the boring stuff listed above, like Netflix and new friends from abroad.


All images from Unsplash

All About Language

All things language — learning, linguistics and acquisition

Matt Jones Ruiz

Written by

Hi I'm Matt and I like to write about language, music, culture, travel and a bunch of other things too.

All About Language

All things language — learning, linguistics and acquisition

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