Learning a new language during lockdown will prepare you for future travels, helping you to have a more immersive and enriching experience of your destination when it’s safe to travel abroad again. Learning a foreign language will also keep you engaged and keep any anxiety at bay while you’re staying at home or in quarantine. These are our lockdown language learning tips.
Learning a second language during lockdown is one of the best things you can do to keep you busy while you’re staying at home self-isolating and social distancing as I discovered thanks to this online language learning site called Preply. Along with cooking projects that engage you over time, learning a foreign language is one of the best things to do to keep yourself occupied and focused and distract you from the global pandemic.
And now is the time to do it. When else have we had this enforced time at home to learn new things and get stuff done? And once the curves are flattened and the coronavirus is under control and life returns to the new normal, we might not have this opportunity again in the future. We can only hope!
So, choose a new language to learn and follow our tips to how to learn a second language while you’re staying at home and when borders open and international flights resume in the future, you’ll be all set to immerse yourself in the country and culture you’re heading to and to make new friends.
Consider this a dynamic guide: I’m embarking on a new language learning journey here in Cambodia to properly learn Khmer and go beyond my basic greetings and food vocabulary and will update this as I go. We’d also love to get your tips for learning a new language during lockdown.
Published 3 August 2020; updated 20 March 2022
Learning a New Language During Lockdown – Our Top Language Learning Tips
Decide on a Language To Learn – Make Sure You Have a Good Reason to Learn It
One of our best tips for learning a language during lockdown is to decide on a language that you have a reason to learn so that you stay committed to the task. That might sound obvious, but I’ve known people who have signed up to language classes just because they thought it might be a fun thing to do only to drop out a few weeks afterwards as they didn’t have a real sense of purpose. The best reason to learn a foreign language is because you have plans to go to a country where it’s spoken and having the language basics of that country will open doors, allowing you to connect better with locals and get beneath the skin of the place.
I’m very slowly (excruciatingly slowly) learning Khmer as I’m researching Cambodia’s culinary history and we’re writing a Cambodian cookbook. Another good reason might be to explore your heritage. My grandparents are Russian although they were born in Ukraine before it was Ukraine, when it was part of the Russian Empire and then Soviet Union. While I have some vocabulary, know some phrases, and can understand a lot of Russian if someone speaks to me, I’ve never learnt to speak it properly myself. My grandparents were post-World War Two refugees to Australia who wanted their children and grandparents to speak English. Learning Russian is a future goal of mine.
Sign Up to an Online Language Course – Structured Learning is Essential
Our next best piece of advice for learning a foreign language is to sign up to an online language course or book a package of lessons with a tutor on an online language learning website such as Preply. I’ve had the most success learning languages over the years by going along to language classes. Before our first trip to Mexico many years ago, Terence and I did an 8-week introductory Spanish class. It gave us enough of the basics to be able to say hello, excuse me, thank you, goodbye, to introduce ourselves, ask people how they were, tell them we were fine, count to twenty, give directions, and buy bus tickets. It gave us confidence and it was fun practicing.
Years later I ended up doing a Masters in International Studies majoring in Latin America and did a year of full-time Spanish language lessons to prepare me for the second year of the course which involved research in Latin America. It was the best thing I ever did. If you’re in lockdown you can’t get along to classes obviously, but the next best thing you can do is to sign up for an online language course or commit to a series of lessons so you stick with it and don’t give up after a couple of language classes. A course provides much needed structure, direction, and personal guidance, which is essential to language learning.
Supplement Online Language Classes with Other Resources – Really Mix Things Up
I’ve found that I’ve been most successful at language learning when I’ve really mixed things up. So while my top tip to successfully learning a language while you’re self-isolating, in quarantine or in lockdown is to do an online language course, my next best advice is to buy a phrase book and dictionary in the language you want to learn; download a language learning app (there are plenty of free apps around, too); start to listen to music and watch movies in the language you are learning; bookmark a foreign language newspaper site in the country you’re keen to get to; watch online cooking classes on YouTube in the language you’re learning; buy some books in the language you want to learn; and use other language learning resources.
Although I have no idea what it’s like these days, I used Rosetta Stone many years ago when I was learning Spanish and I loved the interactivity of it and the variety of games. Dip into a different resource each day to vary your routine so you don’t become bored. By drawing from an array of language learning resources you’ll be really immersing yourself in the language which will help you to learn that language faster. Plus, because we all like to learn languages differently, and we all have different learning styles, you’ll soon figure out what works best for you and can focus more on those tools. Although I still believe that mixing things up is best when it comes to successful language learning.
Learn A Little Language Every Day – But Don’t Be Overly Ambitious
Don’t be too ambitious when you’re setting yourself language-learning goals, as you could set yourself up for failure if you don’t reach your objectives at the end of lockdown or quarantine, and you really don’t want to place unnecessary pressure on yourself at a time that’s stressful enough as it is. Instead, and this is another one of my top tips, don’t create any expectations other than you’re going to learn a little of the language every day.
That way, if you have an online language lesson one day, and then the next day you are feeling mentally tired and not up to doing any serious homework, instead, simply put on some music in that language while you’re having a shower or doing the dishes. Even better, download the lyrics online and tape them to the wall above the sick or the glass shower door (on the dry side!) and sing along! Even better, translate the lyrics. You’ll find that you begin to remember the words and start to incorporate them into your learning exercises and conversations.
Find a Language Learning Partner – It’s Important to Practice Regularly
Another one of my best tips is to find a language learning partner who you can practice with regularly – and that ‘regular’ bit is very important, even if it’s just once or twice a week, as it will help you stay committed and motivated. I’ve found that I’ve learnt languages much more successfully over the years when I’ve learnt with Terence or a friend, so if you can wrangle your spouse, partner, flat-mate, child, or parent in even better.
Ideally, start the online language lessons together so you’re at the same level when you begin. If you live alone, then ask your tutor whether they can recommend another student who might be interested in teaming up with you and meet up on Zoom or FaceTime or Messenger or even for chats on the phone. What you want to do is build your confidence by practicing basic conversations as much as encourage and motivate each other.
Get Your Family, Friends or Flat-Mates On Board – And Plan a Future Trip
Even better than finding one language learning partner? Recruiting a group of them! If you’re in lockdown or staying at home self-isolating with your family or flat-mates, get them all on board and get them committed to learning a new language together as a group that you can use on a future overseas adventure. Choose a place you want to travel to together in the future, commit to learning some of the language of that place. Then begin to dream about and plan that future trip as you are simultaneously learning the language.
Set aside some time once a week when you sit together to research the destination and begin to conceive the kind of trip you want to do. Learn vocabulary related to the sort of experiences you want to have. You hope to do a road trip? Start learning things like directions and words and phrases you might use on the road, such as “Where is the next petrol station?” “How far to the next turn-off to the lake?” “Can you recommend a good bakery on the way?”
As you begin to research your holiday, it will become apparent what kind of vocabulary and phrases you should learn, and there are few things more fun than learning a language with loved-ones. If you’re learning as a family, kids are really fast-learners, so don’t be surprised if they learn faster than you. They’ll keep you motivated.
Have you learnt a second language before? Have you tried learning a language during lockdown this year? What worked for you? We’d love to know. And when we can all travel again, these are our tips for learning languages on the road.