With language learning, you know how important it is to read, listen to, and watch stuff in your new language. And you no doubt have your go-to sources where you get your texts from. *cough YouTube and Amazon cough*
But there are plenty of other sources of foreign language texts, which I’m willing to bet you’re not fully appreciating.
Here are five places to keep your eyes open.
1. Grocery Stores
I live in Florida, home to the best supermarket chain ever: Publix. (Aficionados of Wegmans and Harris Teeter may disagree, but I have to go with my local guys.)
I live across the street from a Publix, in fact. And today I noticed they had put up a new section:
This isn’t exactly a huge section, but since I’m studying German, I’d be selling myself short if I didn’t take some time to read the labels. Some of the labels were in English, but some were definitely in Deutsch. Right now I’m looking at a bag of Dallmayr coffee I bought that’s boasting it’s “eine Spitzenmischung feinster Arabica-Hochlandkaffees”–“a premium blend of the finest highland coffees.”
If your local Publix or Kroger or Safeway doesn’t have foods labelled in your language, try heading down to an ethnic grocery store and checking out the selection there.
2. Commercials and Ads
When I was in language school, some of the first authentic texts I was exposed to were print advertisements. Well before we read the articles in newspapers and magazines, we studied the ads. Ever since then, I’ve kind of taken it for granted that ads and commercials are good sources for foreign language texts, even though they’re not often brought up.
Here’s an example of something that might benefit someone studying Spanish. It’s a Coca-Cola Light commercial:
A few reasons why commercials and ads are beneficial:
- They use relatively simple, natural language.
- They have a visual component accompanying the words.
- They often announce sales, with details on prices and dates, which helps you learn numbers, times, and days of the week.
- Commercials are often overacted, which helps you infer meaning.
3. Instructions and Safety Info
I just got back home from a work trip in Texas. On the flight from Dallas to Orlando, the flight attendants were scaring children and me with their safety briefing. (If a water landing is an unlikely event, then why do all the seats float? I’m bringing my own life jacket next time.)
So I pulled out the safety information card and saw this:
Those are the same ideas in nine different languages. This safety card is like the Rosetta Stone, but with exit row instructions. If you didn’t know what a Flugbegleiter was, you could peek up at the English and tell right away that it’s a flight attendant.
Additionally, manufacturing companies are becoming increasingly global. Since their products are being shipped all over the world, their instruction booklets need to be in multiple languages. Rarely do I buy an appliance anymore whose booklet isn’t in at least English, French, Spanish, and one or two Asian languages.
4. Ethnic Restaurants
A few weeks ago, I ate at a place in Oviedo, Florida called Kimchi Korean Restaurant. No, I’m not studying Korean. I simply enjoy eating food like this:
On the wall, there was a sign with Korean writing:
I texted that picture to my Korean-American friend. He texted back: “The second one says, ‘Don’t order this.'”
But anyway, the point is, ethnic restaurants will have plenty of linguistic artifacts scattered around. You may even get a chance to practice ordering with your server.
5. Tourist Areas
Question: What’s white, full of tourists, and definitely not in Germany?
Answer: The Alamo.
Okay, that was a lousy quiz. But when I was at the Alamo last year, I picked up this brochure:
That’s a pamphlet, written in German, telling the story of “Das Alamo.” The same one was available in almost a dozen different languages.
Tourist places are always going to be full of multilingual maps, advertisements, and brochures.
You know what else they’re always going to be full of? Tourists.
Theme parks, landmarks, hotels, and national parks have people who speak the language you’re learning. You can strike up conversation or simply eavesdrop.
The main takeaway is that even if you’re not immersed in the language you’re learning, there’s a good chance it’s closer than you think. Food labels, ads, writing on the wall–these are all things we overlook and take for granted. Keep your eyes open and you’ll find your new language all around you. Take any opportunity to appreciate it in a natural context.