Learn a foreign language in between projects and on the go

Project managers work on various projects, sometimes traveling to various clients’ sites. You juggle many emails, calls, faxes and meetings during the week. When do you find time and how to prepare yourself mentally to learn something new like a foreign language?

You’re on the road and you think you can’t learn a foreign language because you aren’t in one place long enough to take a class?


Excuses, excuses, excuses.

Languages are lived, not studied. Learn and live a foreign language while traveling.

I speak seven languages (Russian, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Serbo-Croatian) with excellent pronunciation and almost native accents because I used music and the media to learn them.

Here are some tips from my book Language is Music: Over 70 Fun & Easy Tips to Learn Foreign Languages on how to learn a language using music, TV, movies, radio, podcasts and other free and low-cost tools..

The key to learning a foreign language is to integrate it into every part of your life and practice it all the time. If you want to be fluent and speak correctly, you will have to learn grammar, either on your own with a textbook, via an online course or in a traditional classroom. These tips are to start you off with a new language and can also be used to brush or improve on a language you’ve already studied.

(You can use these tips for any language.)

1. Listen up!

You’re doing business in Germany and you want to learn German. Before you launch into regurgitating the entire phrase book on Week One in Berlin, listen to the language. Listen to the Germans talk. If it’s summer, sit in a nice outdoor café, sip a beer or other beverage and relax. Listen. You’re more likely to pronounce a language well if you first let yourself get used to how it sounds. Emotions and intensity are expressed differently in other languages and the more in tune you are with the way people speak in your target language, the less foreign sounding you will be.

Does it seem like they are reading a phone number or rattling of a list of numbers? Are they angry? Happy? Listen to the words spoken to you and listen to your intuition.

2. Mobile learning

Learn Chinese while sitting on the train between Shanghai and Beijing.

Praxis Language Learning Networks have created mobile podcasts of language lessons for Chinese, French, Spanish, English and Italian that you can listen to and interact with on an MP3 Player/iPod, mobile phone, in a customized workbook or CD, on TV, on the Internet or through a learning service/API. A native speaker and language learner use a conversational style to lead daily lessons in grammar, conversation, social customs, real life situations, stories, anecdotes, humor, mnemonic devices, etc. Print out lessons and flash cards from the website. The introductory podcasts are free and subscriptions that include lessons and learning materials range from $5-23 a month.

3. Watch the original version of movies in your target language


Bring DVDs with you to watch on the plane. Pick the track with the original language with subtitles. If you’re more advanced, watch the movie without subtitles and challenge yourself to understand what the actors are saying. You can read the screenplay at Simply Scripts (http://www.simplyscripts.com/) for free and compare what you hear and understand to the script.

4. Music

Image courtesy of http://crashchords.wordpress.com

Find music in your target language that you like. It doesn’t matter if at first you don’t understand the lyrics. You are not only learning the rhythm of the language, you are learning new vocabulary.

Relax and close your eyes. Lay down or sit in a comfortable position. Once you become more comfortable with the song, write down the lyrics as you listen. Recognize grammatical patterns and conjugations in the lyrics.  Make a vocabulary list with words from the songs. Imagine the lyrics in your head.  Create the story in your mind as you listen. You’ll retain the words from the songs better than by just memorizing them from a vocabulary chart. Draw pictures of the story. Visual reinforcement is important in making the words of the song be real to you. When you hear songs in your head, you usually hear the music in its original form, without your accent. Relax, close your eyes, and play the song in your mind.

5. TV

You’re in your hotel room trying to recover from jet lag. Turn on the TV and watch the news in your target language after you already know the relevant news from a source in your own language. This way, you already know the context and will better understand what the news announcers are talking about. Even without knowing all the words, you will be able to get the gist of some of the news reports. The images and video footage of events already tell you what the news announcers are talking about. Tune into HOW they are speaking and the words they are using to describe the images on screen.

You’ll learn new words without actively realizing you’re learning because you’ll be following the story line.

If you’re learning Spanish, Portuguese or Korean, there are some popular soap operas from Latin America and South Korea that you could get hooked on and learn via melodrama!


1 thought on “Learn a foreign language in between projects and on the go”

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    What a terrific topic! One of the unfortunate consequences of living in the relatively isolated USA with only two geographic neighbors, one of which speaks the same language as we do (for the most part), is that we don’t naturally learn to speak more than one language and don’t get to experience more than one core culture. As you point out, global commerce is morphing and becoming more and more multilingual. It is a problem in that the smooth flow of information is more difficult, but it is an opportunity for expanding one’s mind to other ways (literally) of thinking. Being multilingual hopefully also means one is culturally sensitive, which is probably the best benefit. Great advice to learn more than one language. I agree completely.

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