How to master a foreign language from home

You don't have to live abroad to speak like a native

Learning a language, I mean really mastering one, is a lifelong commitment.

If you weren't born bilingual, didn't live in another country, or weren't exposed to multiple languages before a certain "critical period," it's much more difficult to become fluent in a second language. While many of us in the States have language requirements at school, it's increasingly rare that one will be inclined to take their study to a serious level after graduation. But language mastery has a variety of benefits. Not only is it a key to international careers, but it also helps challenge and boost the brain's ability to analyze and problem-solve. Language learning can help strengthen memory, stave off dementia and Alzheimer's, and even improve your mother tongue. It's a commitment as challenging and rewarding as learning to play music.

And like music, words are just one part of the universe of language. Language mastery depends on the ability to not only speak, write, and read words, but to also expertly employ gesture, inflection, expression, and style. Gesture is to language as musicality is to music. Inflection is to language as dynamics is to music. It's something that can't be learned from a textbook or through a translation app, but nurtured from within.

One of the first mistakes that international travelers make is relying on technology to do the hard work for them. With the ease of the Internet, why bother? But when I talk to people that live in countries where English is not the primary language, the majority of them are offended that tourists rarely make an effort to at least try to speak the native language. That's why, if you're up for the challenge, mastering a language is a rewarding journey in itself, not only for you, but for others.

For writers, the prospect of writing in a second language can seem like an initial jump into the abyss. Though Vladimir Nabokov famously wrote in English as exquisitely as he could in his mother tongue of Russian. Author Jhumpa Lahiri made a complete plunge into the Italian language and documented her experience in In Other Words, which she wrote entirely in Italian. Driven by obsession, Lahiri remarks that writing in Italian gives her a whole different sense of freedom; it lets her express a dual soul. New Yorker writer Lauren Collins recently released a memoir of a similar ilk, though she learned her second language by marrying a Frenchman. All of these writers had the unique experience of living in the countries in which they mastered their languages. While living in the country for some period of time, most would agree, is a necessity, language mastery can start on the homefront.

From an early age, I was enraptured by French. Not just the language, but everything about France. I was over the Eiffel Tower and baguettes by the time I was in college. I was interested in argot in the banlieues. I was reading about theatrical French politics and the catastrophic Algerian War. The Vichy Regime. This was the France I wanted—albeit, a bloody one.

I had reached a certain level and studied in Paris, but my time was so limited I felt stuck by incompetence. In groups, I was overwhelmed by the speed at which my new French friends spoke. I didn't want to show my weakness by speaking the language I was more comfortable with, English. I just nodded until someone asked me a question, then answered as slowly and accurately as possible.

When I returned to the States, I was determined to become fluent in French. But the problem was, I didn't have French around me everyday anymore. But if I couldn't be in France, France could be in me. I knew that there were several important things to focus on when it came to language learning: daily practice, speaking, grammar, culture, context, and slang. Here are some of my language tips for advanced speakers that wish to become masters.

1. Write in the language every day

One of the most enjoyable parts of my day comes before 5am. Every morning, I make the time to write at least 500 words in French in my journal by hand. No, it doesn't matter what I write about. It's mostly nonsense. And yes, I make mistakes. While typing on a computer with the language settings set to French would auto-correct all my mistakes, I'd rather make them and maintain a connection to the words I'm writing. Typing takes all of the tactile joy out of writing. Don't do it.

2. Listen to news podcasts

On my morning commute, I listen to Les Matins sur France Culture. Everyday, the 2-hour program is filled with intellectual interviews and reports on the latest in French and world news. The show features many different voices, so I am regularly exposed to different varieties of regional French accents, vocabulary, and slang. All you have to do is close your eyes, then wake up and have absorbed so much more French. In just 3 months, my level of comprehension has easily tripled. Not to mention, it also helps immensely with my pronunciation. Also: subscribe to magazines like France-Amérique, which just happen to be bilingual.

3. Read comic books

When I first became serious about mastering French, I was mistakenly overambitious: I started with Stendhal, Balzac, and Zola. I sat on my bed with a dictionary opened in front of me, prepared to look up every word. But when it took me an hour to read one page, I realized this wasn't a very effective way to understand. Then, I thought back to how I learned to read English: through context clues. Though you have to start from the beginning.

Try comic books. The French have a dazzling collection of bandes dessinées that are as rich in literary merit as they are in language-assistance. Cartoons are a multi-sensory way to facilitate language learning and fill in the gaps of words you don't understand. I've learned so much more from BDs than I ever have from French history books. Riad Sattouf's series, L'arabe du futur is not to be missed; as is Catherine Meurisse's La Légèreté. They are pricey when you order them on Amazon, be warned. But these are treasures you won't just want to have to return at the library. I read them multiple times for maximum effect.

4. Read aloud

It is not enough to read to yourself. Remember how you started reading English: by reading aloud. Whatever you're reading, whether it be a comic book, play, or news article, get in a room with a door, close it, and start reading. Reading aloud will allow you a few liberties. You will read more slowly, with more time to focus on each word. You will also get a chance to work on your pronunciation and accent, while adding inflections of attitude and spirit depending on context. Act it out and have fun! It may sound silly, but it's totally worth it.

5. Watch foreign TV and movies (without subtitles)

Do not succumb to subtitles; they will just distract you. Instead, focus on catching the gist of the situation without knowing every single word. If you feel so inclined, write down a vocabulary word to look up later. But what's more important is to understand the attitude of a situation, the behaviors, the feelings. As you get increasingly fluent, you'll be able to fill in the blanks more easily. Start with the excellent Netflix series, Marseille and the film, Intouchables.

6. Get involved with the embassy and La Maison Française

Your local embassy is an invaluable resource if you're going to master a language. Not only do they have listings of all French-related events in the vicinity (in both French and English), but they post information on job offerings, fellowships, and other ways to get involved. The French Embassy in New York City even has an amazing bilingual bookstore, Albertine. The Maison Française of a local university will also be a useful place to find francophile events. Many of them host gatherings where you can talk to people of all levels of French to practice your skills, while chowing down on some wine and cheese.

7. Join a language alliance

The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) has been an integral part to establishing a French community for me. With a variety of culture-focused, speaking-focused, and grammar-focused courses for all levels, it gives you the chance to talk with like-minded francophiles living in your city. It also gives you access to a French library (where I've found hundreds of BDs, classic literature, and magazines). The institute offers a bunch of information on how to travel to France as well as testing facilities if you're applying for programs and need to take a proficiency exam. The coordinators also host film screenings every Tuesday and have open houses once a month where you can meet people just as passionate about the language as you are in a casual, fun, and food-filled environment.

8. Have authentic dining experiences

There are probably plenty of restaurants claiming they are "French" around you, but I challenge you to eat at a real French restaurant like Le Bernardin. Something with a French chef and French menu. You should know what everything on the menu means if you're serious, plus talk to the wait staff in French. To take it to the next level, try cooking a French recipe from a French recipe book!

9. Live your language

You can study French all you want, but are you thinking in French? For every task you do (eating breakfast, reading the newspaper), have a French voiceover running constantly in your head: "À ce moment, je vais manger le petit-déjeuner. Puis, je vais lire Le Monde." Translating all of your daily tasks into French may seem tedious, but it will become second nature in no time!

10. Dream your language

You know you've mastered a language when you start to dream in it. The unconscious may be seemingly impenetrable, but you can impress your new language on your mind in all states of consciousness. Study right before bed. Think of French things. Sleep and dream.

Language is so much more than just words and grammar—it is a universe unto itself. Mastering a language is infinitely beneficial, not just for your traveling ambitions, but for your soul. Of course, full immersion is the best way to become fluent, but the road to mastery can start at home.

Be your own interpreter.

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Distillery tours went on hiatus in 2020, but there are high hopes for 2021. While bourbon leaps immediately to mind when thoughts turn to distillery tours, interest in other spirits and how they're made is increasing. Here are a few of the best tours to thrill tequila lovers.

Tequila Herradura

Ride in style on the Herradura Express, a distillery sponsored train ride that runs from Guadalajara to the town of Amatitán for a distillery tour and tastings, followed by lunch featuring live entertainment. The train then takes visitors back to Guadalajara by evening. Herradura is housed in the last tequila-producing Hacienda in the world, Hacienda San Jose del Refugio. Casa Herradura will be closed for visits and tours until Mexican health officials declare the coronavirus emergency over.

La Rojeña

Producer of Jose Cuervo, La Rojeña has a train of its own called the Jose Cuervo Express (currently on hiatus due to COVID-19) to bring visitors to the oldest distillery in the town of Tequila. Jose Cuervo offers distillery tours, tastings, and tours of the agave fields. Mundo Cuervo (Cuervo world) also has its own hotel, Solar de las Animas. Check for COVID-19 hours and restrictions before booking.

Casa Sauza

Founded in 1873, Casa Sauza offers four levels of tours including a visit to the La Perseverancia distillery, a visit to the Quinta Sauza estate, and for those willing to spend more, barrel tastings and a barbeque or a three-course meal. Casa Sauza is on hiatus until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, but should go on the distillery tour bucket list.

La Cofradia

The only tequila distillery with a hotel inside, La Cofradia offers many experiences in addition to distillery tours. Choose a hike through natural trails, biking, or horseback riding through the agave fields. Rooms made of giant tequila barrels sit among the agave plants for a unique stay. Visiting La Cofradia is sure to be a tour that thrills tequila lovers. Contact the hotel directly for information about lockdown closures.

A distillery tour offers education about tequila's history and manufacture. Bone up on your tequila terms and tips for choosing quality tequila before you go, so you'll understand what you're tasting.

We don't know how to feel about winter this year. Sure, nobody likes the cold and dreary months, but there's something special about the Holiday season that just seems to be missing. Maybe the thought of staying inside and cozying up to a nice book isn't very enticing given the last few months. The joyful winter wonderland that we usually associate with winter seems to be missing.

That's why our editors decided to take it upon themselves and spread some delight with seasonal meals, courtesy of HelloFresh. For those who don't know what HelloFresh is, it's a meal-kit delivery service with dozens of easy-to-prepare recipes to choose from. Simply select which meals you want as well as how many servings and a neatly organized cardboard box will arrive at your doorstep within the week. Nobody wants to go out in the Winter anyway, and with HelloFresh, you don't have to!

To celebrate the arrival of the coldest season, we decided to highlight some of our favorite (and heartiest) recipes from HelloFresh that are perfect for the Holiday season. Here are five wholesome and balanced meals that will warm you up in no time.

Veggie Loaded Kale & Risoni Soup

A hearty and warm soup is a Winter staple and this veggie loaded kale and risoni soup from HelloFresh absolutely hits it out of the park. All anybody wants during the colder months is to feel cozy and nurtured--just like the flavorful bowl of nutrients. Warm and creamy risoni compliments the seasonal veggies perfectly and the side of garlic bread is a sure-fire cure for any winter blues. With 22 meals to pick from each week, this one is sure to be a household favorite.

Cheesy Red Pesto Chicken Melts

Everyone is familiar with classic green pesto, but have you ever tried red pesto? Red pesto offers way more complexity and oomph than its green counterpart. It is incredibly bright with rich notes of umami, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh basil and garlic. This rendition also features hits of chargrilled capsicum for a little extra zest. You get the exact amount of each ingredient and seasoning, as well as super detailed recipe cards, that make meal prep a breeze. Spread it over a glistening chicken bread and sprinkle with cheese for delectable chicken melts.

Winter Risotto

Risotto is a great winter warmer. It's packed full of veggies so your body will light up like fire, but it's also silky, sumptuous and a real crowd pleaser. HelloFresh's Winter Risotto features a heart helping of kale that pairs perfectly with nutty Parmesan and crunchy walnuts for a robust taste. Did we mention that it also comes with fennel seeds sprinkled throughout? This unique seasoning adds a distinctive, yet delicious flavor to this classic winter staple. We know these meals are pretty hardy, which is why we love having the option to pause our subscription or cancel a week when need be.

Cheat's Italian Pork & Veggie Bolognese

A bolognese that only takes 30 minutes to make? Sign us up! This one is chock full of all the rich flavors of a classic Italian sauce. In fact, we're getting some serious Italian grandmother vibes with this recipe. Silky baby Spanish and grated carrots melt into a hearty meat sauce, offering a mouth-watering meal for anyone looking for a little zest. It's delivery quality, but much more affordable, plus you get to cook it yourself!

Smokey Mild Chorizo & Bean Chilli

Yet another clever twist on a weekday favorite! The paprika and garlic flavored cured sausage is a staple in our chopping baskets since it goes well with practically anything. Not only is Chorizo loved for its taste, but also for its ability to infuse sauces with its tantalizing flavor. This time around, HelloFresh has decided to spice up a classic bowl of bean chili with Spanish styling of a smokey mild chorizo. The end result? A mix of chorizo, red kidney beans, corn and avocado, and an irresistible flavor that everyone will love. This is just one of dozens of unique HelloFresh recipes you won't find anywhere else!

Gone are the days of trekking through the frigid cold just for a few groceries. Sign-up for HelloFresh today and get your ingredients delivered right to your doorstep. Time to start cozying up the right way, with a delicious meal and a nice cup of hot cocoa.

Update: Our friends at HelloFresh are extending a special Black Friday offer to our readers. Follow this link to get $90 off across 4 boxes including free shipping!

Travel Tips

8 of the Best Donut Spots In the United States

Celebrate National Donut Day with our favorite treats across the country.

November 5th marks one of 2020's two National Donut Days.

Occurring in both June and November, National Donut Day allows fans of those delectable yeasty treats to embrace their sweet tooth. But like any niche food group, people often take their donuts very, very seriously, and there are countless places to get your fix.

Below, we've rounded up some of the best donut spots across the country. From coast to coast, these bakeries are sure to impress even the pickiest donut-heads.

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop – Modesto, CA

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop

If you ever find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's worth taking a short trek out east towards Modesto for some of California's best donuts. Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop has remained family owned since its opening over 30 years ago, providing both tried-and-true classic donuts as well as experimental flavors and holiday specials. Even their 24-hour service doesn't diminish the line that trails out the door most mornings.

Dough — New York, NY

Dough \u2014 New York, NY

Donuts might not be the first circular, doughy treat you think of when it comes to New York City. If you've had your fair share of bagels, the Big Apple also boasts some spectacular donuts at Dough, a go-to spot for both tourists and locals alike. Here, you'll find a host of Latin American-inspired flavors that are hard to come by anywhere else; their Dulce de Leche flavor is a customer favorite, while the tangy Hibiscus donut is just as good for Instagramming as it is for eating.

Blackbird Doughnuts — Boston, MA

Blackbird Doughnuts \u2014 Boston, MA

Boston's Blackbird Doughnuts is a no-frills donut spot specializing in both brioche "raised" donuts and old-fashioned cake donuts. With a small menu of year-round donuts and a rotating cast of seasonal flavors, Blackbird keeps it simple and classic. Why mess around?

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop — Brooklyn, NY

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop \u2014 Brooklyn, NY

For over 60 years, Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop has been calling the quaint Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint home. Since then, the bakery has remained a popular spot for both regulars and new visitors passing through the area. Here, you won't find uber-trendy decor or gimmicky recipes, just damn good donuts that prove the power of long-standing local businesses.

Pip’s Original — Portland, OR

Pip\u2019s Original \u2014 Portland, OR

In both their mobile catering van and brick-and-mortar locations, Pip's Original is a staple for small, sweet treats in Portland. They're known for their tiny donuts that come in inventive seasonal flavors like marionberry-lavender and mango ghost pepper. But even if you opt for one of the more traditional flavors, Pip's Original proves good things can come in small packages.

Round Rock Donuts — Round Rock, TX

Round Rock Donuts \u2014 Round Rock, TX

Founded in 1926, Round Rock Donuts—located just north of Austin—are impossible to miss. These donuts' distinct yellow-orange color, caused by fresh eggs in the original recipe, make them stand out among the crowd. While this classic outpost can easily churn out hundreds of dozens of donuts a day, they also offer Texas-Sized Donuts, which are just as ginormous as you'd imagine. Round Rock Donuts are not only delicious and easily recognizable, but they're a slice of Lone Star history.

The Holy Donut — Portland, ME

The Holy Donut \u2014 Portland, ME

In Maine's Portland, you might not find tiny donuts or a decked-out catering van, but you will find a slightly healthier alternative. The Holy Donut was founded on the premise of creating tasty donuts that used all-natural ingredients to make a treat you could feel good about eating. The secret ingredient is fresh, mashed Maine potatoes, which make these donuts delectably moist without sacrificing flavor.

Donut Friend — Los Angeles, CA

Donut Friend \u2014 Los Angeles, CA

As expected of a city so focused on entertainment, Los Angeles' Donut Friend puts an edgy spin on their inventive donut flavors. Their year-round menu features donut flavors with names like Green Teagan and Sara, Fudgegazi, and Bacon-182 that are sure to delight the rock music nerds. For everyone else, the delicious donuts speak for themselves.