Proven to Work || Take Tnspiration from the 1990s to Learn a Foreign Language
Back in the 90s we listened to music on CDs, relied on maps made from paper and waited each week for episodes of our favourite TV shows.
Entire families shared one phone on a fixed line, and an app meant taking a short sleep (see what I did there?)
Technology has put knowledge in our pockets, but there are some old-school techniques that are still relevant for people who want to learn a foreign language today.
Low Tech Learning || Label your life
Low Tech Learning || Repeat, repeat, repeat
Low Tech Learning || Write lines
Low Tech Learning || Talk to yourself
Low Tech Learning || Get planning
Low Tech Learning || Make a pen friend
Low Tech Learning || Make a real friend
Low-tech Learning – Label Your Life
- Good for: building vocabulary
Labelling your stuff helps to reinforce vocabulary with minimal effort.
It’s particularly useful for learning words to do with home life (and school / office space if you can get away with it).
Attach word cards everywhere they’ll stick – on furniture, appliances and doors to rooms. This gives you a repeated visual association between the object and the word, which imprints on your brain and helps you learn a foreign language without you even realizing it.
If you see the same word in the same place every day, it will stick with you in no time.
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Low-tech Learning – Repeat, repeat, repeat
- Good for: spoken fluency
Saying a word or phrase out loud over and over helps you develop the muscle memory of saying it, so you don’t trip over the words or sounds.
By the time you want to use the words in conversation, they’ll trip right off your tongue (like rapping along to TLC).
A great way to improve your spoken fluency when you’re trying to learn a foreign language. Warning: best to do this when you’re on your own with nobody in ear-shot.
Low-tech Learning – Write lines
- Good for: improving your spelling
Remember when you were a kid and you did something wrong, and as punishment you had to write ‘lines’ of a pledge never to do it again? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see the opening credits of The Simpsons.)
Writing on repeat has a similar effect as speaking: it imprints on your mind, and the flow of the words (or characters) quickly feels natural as you build the memory of the action, so grab your pen and get writing:
I will learn a foreign language!
Low-tech Learning – Talk to yourself
- Good for: preparing for your next conversation
-> Need a way to keep improving when you’re not in class or at home?
-> Want to practice your language when you’re on the go without your books?
It sounds weird, but talking to yourself – quietly, or even in your head – gives you head-space to recall vocabulary, practice words and try out sentence structures.
Think of it as a way of mentally preparing for your next conversation by practising the questions you might need.
Get inspiration from your surroundings to imagine what you would say in different situations and scenarios. They say that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness, so use with caution.
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Low-tech Learning – Get Planning
- Good for: homework time
Is it just me, or was everyone more organized before we all had cell phones?
If you wanted to meet a friend, you had to arrange the time and location – and make sure you weren’t late.
This habit of planning extended to our studies too – we had homework and revision timetables (written out by hand) for scheduling our study hours.
This not only forces you to be disciplined, but it also ensures you’re being efficient, covering everything you need to learn a foreign language and spending equal amounts of time on different topics – not just doing the things you enjoy most. It also means you take breaks and finish on time.
No more ‘dog ate my homework’.
Low-tech Learning – Make a pen friend
- Good for: romance and swear words
In the 90s we wrote letters on paper which we put in an envelope and mailed.
It was how we kept in touch with foreign friends, and because international calls were so expensive, these friendships were exclusively limited to paper.
Having pen-friends is a good way to practice writing and learn vocabulary that isn’t in any of the course materials. Hand-written also means you can’t fall back on spell check, and forces you to focus on the spelling and grammar that are essential to successfully learn a foreign language.
Email makes it easier to keep in touch but there’s a nostalgic romance to receiving a letter that rivals anything Tinder can offer.
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Low-tech Learning – Make an Actual Friend
- Good for: listening and pronunciation
These days we make friends online that we never meet in real life, but nothing beats face-to-face for a decent conversation.
Forging a friendship with a native speaker – especially one with the patience to correct and coach you – is one of the most valuable tools in your learning box.
If you’re fortunate to be learning a foreign language abroad, like Taiwan or China, you should have no shortage of native speakers to befriend. But don’t be surprised if your new pal has similar ideas and wants to practice their English with you.
Get around this by suggesting a language exchange where you spend 50% of your time in one language and 50% in the other.
PS – Our connection kit physically pairs you with two people we select based on your interests. If you take a course with us, we’ll chat to you before coming and find a couple of people we think you will get along with.
These old-school techniques don’t rival the hi-tech comforts we enjoy today, but don’t be afraid to put down your device and pick up a pen.
Mixing up your hi-tech learning with some analogue solutions gives you variety when you learn a foreign language and allows you to discover that no-tech is fun too.
How to find a Chinese pen-friend?
There are lots of opportunities online to meet Chinese friends!
If you have WeChat on your phone, you can use the “People nearby” feature to meet other people in your area.
Is speaking to yourself in Chinese really helpful?
I know it seems a bit strange, but I assure you it works!
Not only it will help you overcome the fear of speaking Chinese in public, but you can also get more comfortable with the prononciation and tones.
I suggest you record yourself speaking, so by listening you’ll know exactly what’s not pronounced correctly and you’ll then be able to correct yourself.
What about writing lines of Chinese characters?
Probably the most boring thing to do for a student, but writing lines of characters will help you memorise them better.
As we have seen, repetition in learning a new language is key, and it works both for speaking and the writing aspect of the language. Especially with Chinese characters!
If you write a character enough time to remember it perfectly, then in the future your muscle memory will allow you to write it without even thinking! How nice is that?
What are other ways to learn Chinese?
In these days and times, there are plenty of resources online to keep practicing Chinese.
If you wish to have a structured course to learn the language, I suggest you have a look at an online program, which will help you learn faster.
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BONUS | Want to study the local Taiwanese dialect known as Hokkien? We provide Hokkien classes in person and online.