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10 Low-Effort Ways to Learn a Second Language

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Read on if you’re looking for ideas to learn a second language with the least effort possible.

Think passive, repetitive and non-time-consuming ways to get a second language into your life. And it’s for everyone, not just travelers. You may be a busy CEO, a new mum, a part-timer, a retiree, a student, a small business owner or a constant traveler and each one of you can use these tricks today.

Many people abandon studying a language early on. Perhaps because the task is too daunting, or you are frustrated with not being able to express yourself quickly. However, a second language is a marathon, but not the kind that will make you hate life. More like a Game of the Thrones marathon, where each week reveals the teeniest new insights and you get mixed up with vocabulary right until close to the end of season 6.

Except this marathon has a much better ending – communication not in your native tongue.

You clever clogs!

You don’t need a teacher nor expensive teaching resources, because technology allows you to surround yourself with the language from wherever your every day takes you.

Being bilingual has a multitude of benefits:

  • Having a fancier LinkedIn profile and better job prospects (ahem.. globalization)
  • Secret conversations …
  • More romantic pet names for people around you (mon cheri, meu xuxuzinho, anyone?)
  • A wider choice of news outlets (hello, new perspectives on the world)

I’ve been learning Portuguese for 8 years and each milestone was not marked by studying hours but by tweaking my daily routine. You can do all of the things in this guide RIGHT NOW!


Our guide of low-effort ways to learn a second language:


1. Turn your devices to the target language

Navigate into your phone, laptop, iPad settings and select your target language. Be prepared for a week of frustration where you can’t navigate a thing, but after it will become a breeze.

To lessen the trauma, make sure you have already downloaded a dictionary app onto the same device to look up words when you get stuck.

Enjoy that? Now, navigate to your social media apps/ profile settings and switch them to the target language too. The social media site itself will be translated and even if your followers speak your native tongue, Facebook and Twitter both automatically translate some of the content for you. Extra immersion!

You’ll learn technology vocabulary, instructions/ imperative and past tenses. 


2. Alter your Netflix language settings or add subtitles to your movies and series

Changing the settings will mean you scroll through the genres in the target language and some of the titles will also be translated.

Adding subtitles lets you follow your programs picking up common phrases and slang that often features in cinema. At minimum you’ll learn a new word per program and the only way from there is up!

You’ll learn slang, everyday expressions, swear words, sentence formation, asking questions and replying, expressions of surprise, praise and anger.


3. Sign up for a news round-up to your inbox

Many paid and free news sources send out daily and weekly roundups of the top stories. You can read the headlines and leads of a number of reports in a matter of minutes each day. Then if something catches your eye you can always click through to the link and give the whole article a read.

The language in reporting is usually standardized, devoid of regional specific words, dialect or slang, therefore often making it simpler than street dialogue.

You’ll learn present and past tenses, an array of vocabulary and more advanced verbs.


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4. Use the Duolingo App to learn a second language

Duolingo has small interactive lessons of 2-3 minutes. Each one focuses on a different topic. You then gradually move through the levels at your own pace.

You’ll learn prepositions, gender agreement, pronunciation, everyday vocab and get listening practice.


5. Try Lyrics Training

Lyrics Training is a website where you can listen to songs and fill in gaps in real time. Choose from several difficulty levels, each alters the number of gaps you must fill in. The website is restricted to the most popular songs with a limited repertoire, but it is great for catching small words like prepositions or commonly shortened words used to fit the rhythm.

You’ll learn small words and connectors, slang, verb conjugation and vastly improve listening skills.


6. Turn Google Maps to your target language

After switching Google Maps then turn on the sound and use both the map and voice to reach destinations. Over time you’ll be able to understand the instructions alone. Cautionary warning – you may get lost at first.

BY THE WAY: Don’t do this the day you have to arrive on time to catch a train or have a job interview.

You’ll learn directions, numbers, distances, vocabulary for the road.


7. Try getting added to WhatsApp groups in the second language

The ideal groups are those with a lot of people so you can blend into the background. Highly active WhatsApp groups that talk about a variety of topics can immerse you in everyday conversations. Though this may take a little asking around on your part, once you’re in, it’s like a window into a night out with a bunch of natives.

I would set overly active groups to silent, so they don’t bother you during your day and you can scroll through the convos when you have time.

You’ll learn how to give birthday love, to swear, to insult someone, to praise someone, to use slang, to give your opinion, to agree and to disagree.


8. Follow influencer’s social media profiles from countries that speak the target language

Each country has its own set of celebrities and influencers that are spieling out content daily. I would add a selection from a range of industries such as, chefs, actors, activists, politicians, models, singers, bloggers and authors.

The biggest influencers often post captions in both English and their native language so you can compare the two easily.

You’ll learn past tense, future tense, descriptions, vocabulary from a number of industries.


9. Read children’s books

Children’s books and lower level material will have less complicated vocabulary and be shorter than advanced literature. Fortunately, there are many children’s books that adults can enjoy. Take for instance Roald Dahl, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter Series or Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games.

Another trick is to find books that you’ve already read. Knowing the plot will drastically cut down the amount of words you need to look up and you’ll find it easier to get the drift.

You’ll learn sentence construction, descriptions, dialogue and questions, connectors, a full range of vocabulary.


10. Watch YouTube to learn a second language

YouTube videos are great for learning a second language because they are short, accompanied by visuals and often informative.

For instance, if you are looking for a recipe, why not search in YouTube in the target language and watch a small tutorial? Interested in a topic and you can watch a lecture or Ted Talk in the target language. There are comedy sketches, short animations, influencers discussing everyday nuances or a person reviewing an item.

YouTube is also practical. Replay it if you didn’t catch everything watching it the first time.

You’ll learn tones and intonations used by native speakers, rhythm of the language, different tenses (first person in the case of a vlogger etc.), time markers, utterances and demonstratives.  

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