My Language Learning Strategy

Creations / Blog / My Language Learning Strategy

Oct 27, 2023 | About 4 min reading time

Neat fact about me: one of my hobbies is learning languages.

My family is mostly Canadian French (Acadian, not Québécois), so French is probably the language I know the best at the moment besides English, my native language. In high school, I also picked up a bit of Brazilian Portuguese through Duolingo, and for the most part, I can write in both languages and generally have okay reading and listening comprehension, though I still struggle more than I would like to admit, especially with holding a conversation (searching for the words I want is hard).

Recently, I've also been working on the basics of Russian on and off, because I just think it's a very pretty language. There are some other languages I want to learn in the future too (Mi'kmaq because I have Mi'kmaq ancestry, Nunavimmiutut or Inuktitut because I have some Inuit cousins and would like to learn more about their culture, Hebrew and Arabic because I think they're pretty, etc.), but for now I'm keeping the list of languages I'm actively working on learning to three so I'm not too overwhelmed.

For the most part, I've been doing this without a real plan in place, but recently, I came up with a sort of strategy that I'd like to share.

If you have ever tried to learn a language, you have probably heard of immersion. I have an advantage here with French: I know people in real life who speak the Acadian dialect I want to learn. I can just ask my mom to speak to me only in French if I want to practice my conversation skills, so that's pretty easy. However, this doesn't work for Brazilian Portuguese or Russian.

I've developed a plan for increasing my exposure to content in all of my target languages nonetheless. For French, on top of conversational practice, I use an app called Mauril which is targeted at newcomers to Canada who need to learn either French or English. It uses content from CBC (English) and Radio-Canada (French) to test listening comprehension, asking questions in the target language about the material you just watched. Because of this, the content is actually stuff that native speakers of the language would watch, and it's also broken up by difficulty level too. There's a lot of content for each difficulty level.

For all three languages, I also keep playlists on YouTube dedicated to interesting content in the languages. This honestly is usually science content. Kurzgesagt on YouTube has French and Portuguese channels where the popular videos from their main channels are translated, Dirty Biology is a cool French channel that tackles topics like how journalists are a bit racist about Hong Kong's architecture, Ciência Todo Dia is a Portuguese science education channel, and for Russian channels I've found Alpha Centauri and SciOne which are also science-focused.

It's not as simple as just watching these videos in my target languages and hoping to improve, though. There has to be some kind of strategy to this sort of learning. What I do is watching each video three times: first, with subtitles off to see how much I comprehend already. Next, I put subtitles on in the target language and watch the video again, seeing how much I understand now (sometimes I'll only pick up on a word being said when I notice it in the subtitles, so this helps me notice words I missed when watching without subtitles). Finally, I set the subtitles to auto-translate to English (usually there aren't English subtitles already provided, but that's fine), and watch the video a final time, so if there's anything I still didn't understand, I now understand it.

For reading comprehension, I look for news websites in my target language, as well as taking advantage of a thing I already do naturally: Wikipedia rabbit holes. If I'm already looking at a Wikipedia page on something that interests me, I can click on the dropdown listing the other languages that the page is available in and read it in one of my target languages, if that's available. When I encounter a sentence I don't understand, I look up the translation, then I make a flashcard for it in Anki. There are... a lot of ways to use Anki for language learning, so I'm not going to go over that in this post.

Finally, for writing practice, I plan to start writing blog posts in my target languages here, as well as translating my English ones into those languages. I encourage native speakers to contact me via email with corrections, if you'd like, and I'll probably find spaces online where I can share the posts and receive corrections as well. I'm not sure when I'll start doing this for Russian, since I am still very much at the beginner stage and currently learning how to say things like "She eats" and "This is my house", but I'll get there eventually.

"Wait, what about speaking practice?"

At the moment, I've been struggling with greater-than-usual social anxiety for about a year now (I can barely get myself to speak to new people in English, let alone my target languages). While I'm still going to be pestering my mom to chat with me in French, speaking practice for Portuguese and Russian is going on the backburner for now. However, I do have plans for how I will approach this when I'm ready. There are lots of online communities for finding language exchange partners, so I'll likely find native speakers of my target languages that way and set up voice calls with them. I also stream on Twitch sometimes, and have set up channel point rewards in the past that involved me speaking in either Portuguese or French only for five minutes, so I'll likely revisit that idea at some point.

Another advantage I have in learning languages is that I am a major fan of the QSMP, a lore-based Minecraft multiplayer server run by a Minecraft YouTuber named Quackity. He's a bilingual speaker of English and Spanish, so the unique part about this server is that it's multilingual and features a live translate mod. Not only has this server introduced content creators and their fans from the Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English communities to each other, but it's also a great excuse for me to try watching the Portuguese and French streamers and see how much I can understand from what they say. My partner has recently gotten into it as well and makes me translate the Portuguese streamers for her (they do usually set the captions in game to be English so English viewers will understand them, but of course, automatically generated captions do have limitations), which is another good way for me to practice my listening comprehension.

That about sums up my strategy for learning these languages going forward. I'll probably make adjustments to this too as I test it out and learn what works and what doesn't. For now, though, this is my plan.