This week is ‘back to university’ week, or ‘Freshers’ Week’ to most people, and for most universities around the UK. With that in mind, this is the opportunity for you to create bonds with individuals through drinking, partying and signing up for societies hoping to meet like minded people.

Undoubtedly you will meet more than a couple of people from other regions in the world. Sharing with others stories about cultural history, events and customs can act as a powerful bonding experience between those involved; like in a ‘sharing in our differences’ kind of way. Deep, right?

What intrigues me most are the differences we have in our languages. I personally like to adopt emotive words and phrases in other languages, taught to be by extra-lingual friends, and employ them at the most appropriate times, thus bringing us closer together as I express a situation in their mother tongue. Inevitably, of course, the nuances that come naturally to a native speaker of a language can take decades to master for the aspiring linguist. However, I don’t think I’ll ever forget how to say ‘Shit!’ or ‘F***’ in Lithuanian. And that’s enough for me.

But if you want to go beyond the superficial ‘go to’ words that everyone uses to impress, or perhaps even have a conversation in Spanish, Latvian or Dutch then here are some of my top techniques to make the language learning process a little more enjoyable.

1. Change every device you own into the desired learning language — Level: Intermediate

For this one you need to have at least a basic conversational grasp of the language. Try navigating an iPad in a language you cannot understand and you have yourself an iPad you can’t use and a Siri that you’ll never hear speak in your mother tongue again. You. Will. Be. Screwed. I am speaking from experience.

“Well what’s the point in that?” I hear you say, “If I’m already able to hold a conversation, what else do I need?”. Oh, dear reader, if you do this you will see your vocabulary in increase exponentially. You’ll know words without even knowing you know those words. You’ll be picking up words like Hugh Hefner picks up women: many at a time and with great ease.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

2. Watch Movies/Animated TV Series in a different language — Level: Beginner-Advanced

The beauty with this one is that you have complete control over how difficult you wish to make your language learning. You can choose a film you have seen 50 times already and watch it with the audio and subtitles in Portuguese and know exactly what is going on. After one watch you will have picked up all the basic words like ‘hello’, ‘bye’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘his’, ‘her’ etc, if not more. Just jot down any words you’re interested in looking up in a notebook to look up after viewing. If you want the harder setting watch a film you haven’t seen before, foreign subtitles, foreign audio, and off you go. Get the remote ready because you will be pausing a lot to write down words.

Animated TV series are especially great to start off with. Since they are usually aimed at younger audiences their simpler vocabulary and narratives make them excellent material with which to pick up a new language.

Youtube has a plethora of episodes from a number of animated series (Dragon Ball, Power Puff Girls, Dexter’s Lab, Pokémon) available in various languages.

3. Listen to Foreign Music — Level: Beginner

Rock. Pop. Metal. Folk. Classic. Punk. Whatever kind of music you are into there are probably a number of bands in that genre that sing in the language that you wish to hone.

You broaden your horizons by researching a brand of music you already enjoy while this enjoyment compels you to look up (or perhaps even translate yourself) the lyrics to the songs you hear. As with the previous tip you can make this as easy or a difficult as you wish depending on how much effort you are willing to expend: just learn the chorus, which is repeated 3 or 4 times and which is the say line over and over again, or go for one of the more complex verses.  Having words matched with patterns of sound and melody helps keep new words stuck in the ol’ noggin.

4. Look up other languages’ equivalents to well known idioms — Level: Beginner

This activity can be pretty funny and can work in one of two ways: either you can learn how to say it in the desired language and sound badass or translate it literally from the original language into your own. For example, let’s take the idiom ‘speak of the devil’ working in the languages English and Swedish:

English: “Speak of the devil and he shall appear”

Swedish equivalent: “När man talar om trollen (så står de i farstun)”

Literal Translation: “When you speak of the trolls (they stand in the entrance hall)”

So the next time somebody you’ve been talking about enters the room stick it to ’em with “when you speak of the trolls…” and await confused stares. You can look up pretty much any idiom or phrase on Wikipedia and it will return to you a phrase with the same meaning in 45+ different languages. Enjoy.

If you want to go for the more badass option remember that many idioms are short and often designed to rhyme for optimal mnemonic salience, hence they should be pretty easy to recall in their original language (with some practice, of course!).

5. Duolingo — Level: Beginner-Advanced

If you have not yet come across Duolingo, consider this your formal introduction. It is a brilliant, absolutely free tool for learning up to 15 languages. Choose a language (or a couple if you are feeling ambitious) and you can start straight from the basics.

Or, if you are already semi-versed in a particular language and wish to improve further you can take a ‘Placement Test’. The test calculates which rung on the language acquisition ladder you should start from, skipping over material that would be too easy and make you look awesome in from of friends but wouldn’t really be pushing you to your limits. Practice what you don’t know, not what you do know.

This tool, unlike other language tools, is not restricted to app format; you can access it from an internet browser too. This program’s range of languages, comprehensive list of topics, player versus player language battles and friendly (but not overly cute) interface and design is so refreshing compared to many other offerings on the interwebs.

Plus, if you are in international student looking to improve your English there is an option where you can opt to learn English from any one of the 15 languages on offer.

Enough endorsement. Visit the site:

You can’t say ‘no’ to that face!

6. Read Labels and Shop at Lidl — Level: Beginner-Hero

The only place you get instant translation away from Google Translate, in the world of the physical and tangible, is on product labels.

Or, instruction manuals for house hold appliances or Ikea furniture.

Or in books.

But let’s focus on labels because labels are often read out of boredom during mundane, everyday activities like showering or toileting. We can, however, turn this into an opportunity to learn some foreign words and phrases with minimal effort. The labels on many of the things we buy include at least one other language on them, as much as 5 or 6 sometimes! And that number increases twofold for most products bought at Lidl: yogurt, hair conditioner, shaving foam, chocolate.

If I’m ever in a local supermarket in Northern Italy and I see someone slowly moving their fingers toward their eyes after handling a jalapeño pepper and I need to warn them to avoid contact with their eyes then the back of the FCUK body-wash in my bathroom may well have saved that person’s eyesight. (Evitar o contacto gu occhi) 

How heroic.

Learn Russian while you shop… look how happy she is!


So go forth! Go bond through the medium of the spoken word. Don’t let language be a barrier when it can be so effortless to pick up!