Study Hack: Create a Language Bubble

Creating a language bubble is a great way to make use of otherwise “wasted” time when learning a new language. One blogger has even used it to learn Japanese before ever arriving in Japan. The idea is to surround yourself as much as possible with the target language so the time otherwise spent in your native language is better used.

You can change your computer, Facebook, Google etc. settings all into your target language quite easily, and it is surprising how much useful vocabulary you’ll encounter.  You’ll also probably be surprised by the fact that it really is not annoying (you can guess at menu items easily and it becomes a mini game you’re always playing).  Because I work full time as a computer programmer I’ve taken this a step or two further (to maintain my sense of immersion here in France, despite working for 8+ hours a day in English).

Music is one great addition to a “language bubble.”  Even though I don’t really believe in passive learning I still think it is a good idea to be exposed to the sounds when doing things like making dinner… and if you can pick out words, all the better.  Just don’t distract yourself and hurt productivity while working.

One thing I’ve struggled with in the past though is finding music in my target language.  I’ve now remedied this problem. Here’s how:

  1. Find an artist in your target language.  Google or friends should be able to help with this.  You can also skip to step 2 and just do a search in like “french”
  2. Use and listen to the generated radio station.  You might also be able to use Pandora for this, but Pandora does not work in most countries outside the USA.
  3. Whenever you hear a song you like (and which you find yourself picking up the odd word or two) add it to a playlist
  4. Convert the playlist to a Grooveshark playlist (by hand, unless someone knows a better way) so you can listen to each song in full any time.
  5. If you have time, look up the lyrics too and spend some time making sense of the music

Here’s my French pop music playlist on Grooveshark.

Here’s the other things I’ve started doing recently:

  • I’m listening to the news in French and Spanish via “slow news” podcasts while making breakfast or lunch.  These are aimed at students but I find them much more interesting and practical than lesson style podcasts.  Here’s a resource with links for Spanish, French, German and Italian and NewsInSlowSpanish.
  • I’ve renewed my subscription to ChinesePod, which is by far my favorite language software tool, as my Mandarin was starting to slip.  3 Upper-Intermediate/Advanced lessons per week (about 30 min each) is enough to keep me feeling decent about my abilities.  I also downloaded a free Anki deck to review the 10,000 most common words.  I’m also currently working on some meetups and other interactive ways to maintain my language (more on this later).
  • I’ve been adding interesting blogs in languages I speak to my RSS feed
  • I’m using the Google Translate Bot to type in French, even when chatting with English-only friends.  Sure I may sound weird, but true friends support me.
  • Google Chrome can automatically translate every page you visit into your target language.  It is not always practical but it is a great idea a lot of the time (even right now I’m looking at the WordPess blog dashboard in French).  If you’re ever confused you can just hover over the word to see the original version.  Because this is a translation (and not a custom made page) it is important to remember that it is a decent vocabulary exposure resource but not appropriate for learning grammar.  I have taken to reading my favorite blogs and news in French.  The great benefit to this is I’m finding lots of VERY practical vocab to add to my Anki deck.

The results?  I’m noticing  more and more that I am thinking in French and sometimes even have to switch consciously into English.  My ability to separate between the languages is improving quickly now that I have addressed the  problem by forcing myself to switch at times during my day.


    • Avatar
      Zane the Experimenter -  May 3, 2011 - 6:25 am 61

      I just shared the list with some French friends too… I think the song “La Lettre” (3rd or 4th on the list) is my favorite so far 😉

  1. Avatar
    Moses -  May 6, 2011 - 4:30 am 71

    Dude you have an AWESOME blog man!!! It was kind of weird when I first found your blog because I am interested in lots of the stuff you are (memory, sleep, languages, etc.). Haha, also I had read that exact same article on Supermemo!
    Anyways, I’ve been studying French for about a month or two now. Some of the artists I have on my Grooveshark station are Stromae, Mathieu Chedid, and Ben L’oncle Soul. Also, do ever use Grooveshark to actually find new music? Just curious. Thanks, and keep up the awesome blog!

      • Avatar
        Zane the Experimenter -  May 6, 2011 - 2:28 pm 75

        Thanks, Moses! It means a lot to me that you like tho blog 😉 And Piotr Wozniak is one of me heroes =P

        I’ve only discovered music on GS using the channels (classic, etc). Not sure how to go about finding French music using just GS… any ideas?

        • Avatar
          Moses -  May 7, 2011 - 5:49 am 77

          Well, there is a little button that says radio between the little trash can and number of songs, near the bottom right of the page. If you click it, it will start playing new songs that you should like. Although, now that you introduced me to, I’ve been using that for just about all new songs.
          Also I’m a bit obsessed with Piotr Wozniak as well! 🙂

          • Avatar
            Zane the Experimenter -  May 7, 2011 - 5:57 am 78

            Wow! I’ve never noticed that before. But yeah, is meant for discovery (like Pandora is), so I think it is a very good option 😉

  2. Avatar
    Pietro Branca -  December 21, 2013 - 4:48 pm 1159

    Do not forget to practice your target language. Otherwise you will improve the “passive speaking” only.
    You advices are great! I do that with both English and Spanish. But what about using the “wasted” time to turn into an “active speakers”? Personally I speak in the target language while I drive the car (alone, usually) so when I sit in a traffic jam I do not swear in my native language but I do practice difficult words or phrases speaking English or Spanish 🙂

    • Avatar
      Zane Claes -  December 22, 2013 - 3:50 am 1161

      You’ll find no bigger proponent of practice than I; this post just happened to be about how to create an immersive environment 😉 You might be interested in my guest blog post on the Fluent in 3 Months blog about thinking in a foreign language:

      Nice, I’m a fan of talking to myself in the foreign language, too 🙂 I’ve been known to have conversations with myself switching between 3 different characters, each speaking a different language, to practice being able to switch between them.

  3. Avatar
    Very Misunderstood -  September 1, 2015 - 2:27 pm 1492

    I have another tip to give.
    Every week, identify 10 new items that exist in your house.
    Write, in sticky paper notes their names in the target language you’re learning and stick the notes on the items
    Keep rolling 10 new words every week 🙂

    • Avatar
      James Kelly -  January 14, 2016 - 7:28 am 1515

      +1: I’m some random guy on the internet and I approve this message.

      But seriously this was how my mom taught me, in English, the names of things and how to spelling them when I was around five or six years old. I was planning on returning to this method to help me learn the names of things in Spanish so I’ll associate the Spanish nouns with the objects rather than the English word.

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