Do you ever watch people playing poker and wonder how they manage to pull off that perfect poker face, leaving you to wonder if they’re in a position to negotiate, or if they have a hand full of 2’s? Learning to speak a language should be like handling a poker face at its best; following your muscle memory and going with the flow of the activity, feeling the realness of it all and not having to think too hard or worry too much about it.
I’ve designed some games for you to start getting that feeling when learning your target language, making it feel a bit more effortless. They’re designed around the concept of productivity techniques such as classical conditioning and memory palaces, and while I can’t take credit for that, I can tell you how to use this concept to integrate language-practice with your daily activities, so that it doesn’t feel like too much of a time commitment.
Here are some games you can play while:
1. Cooking dinner
Some people recommend covering your house with flashcards that label objects in the target language. This can certainly help, but this game takes things one step further. Instead of labelling, speak the foreign names of objects and ingredients aloud, each time you use an item while cooking a meal. For those that are more advanced, attempt to say recipe directions in the target language i.e. “use one spoonful”, “use 15 ounces,” etc. Some recipe suggestions would be pasta salad, potato salad, grilled cheese, chicken with berries, fruit salad, sub sandwiches, cobb salad, spaghetti and meatballs, sushi, cheesecake, macaroni and cheese, pizza, and stir-fried ramen noodles.
Mini-recipe suggestion: Homemade yakisoba
1–Boil a pack of ramen noodles as usual, but only pour in about half of the seasoning packet.
2–Meanwhile, stir fry some soy sauce, water and white wine with celery and salmon [or tofu]. Heat the resulting sauce so that it burns off and there are only a few drops of liquid left.
3–Take the heat off the stove, drain the ramen noodles and mix them with the stir fry in the pan. Save the ramen broth and seasoning packet for future use. Serve with chopsticks and a lemon wedge.
2. Walking somewhere or going for a jog
Ever heard of a memory palace? The concept involves picturing your favorite house or building, then virtually “placing” each item on your to-memorize list in different rooms, so that you can better visualize what you need to remember. It may be easier to remember the athlete’s magazine doing yoga by the fireplace and the omelettes breakdancing with the nerds on the breakfast counter, than “core exercises 101, eggbeaters, green peppers, white onion, shredded cheddar cheese, tofu squares and gluten-free bread”. This game takes an adaptation of this technique–the next time you go for a run or walk around your neighborhood, practice [if only in your mind] certain categories of foreign words in certain parts of the path. Develop a regular route and place the same categories in the same locations, so that it comes second nature. For example, “block 1–pronouns. The storefronts–food and beverage words. The university medical campus–health words. The construction zones–survival phrases.” This can even condition you to think in the target language every time you pass a certain part of the neighborhood, even if you’re just passing through as part of an errand or in the middle of something else.
3. Doing the laundry
Many fun-loving people have seen laundry hampers as more of basketball-hoops rather than clothing-containers. Use this to your advantage, and finally do your whites. Do your laundry as usual, and when placing dried clothes back into the hampers, place the hampers at least 7 feet away from the dryer. Toss each article of clothing into the hamper of your choice, saying aloud the color of the garment in your target language as you do so. Each basket counts as two points, but they only count if you correctly name the corresponding foreign language word. For a more advanced version, name the foreign word for the garment’s size, shape, or clothing type. Keep track of the points you get during each laundry session and track your progress over time.
Keep experimenting with these productivity games. While they are no replacement for vigorous university-language courses, or other formal teaching methods, the ability to work their way seamlessly into your everyday activities makes these games ideal for getting at the personal core of language learning: living and truly feeling the language.
— Alaska Lam