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.

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7. Low Prices (vs. other Airbnb lodging options and flexible cancellation policy)

Before I found out about Getaway, I thought, gosh. Travel can be expensive, even with everything that is going on. Cabin rentals on Airbnb are so pricey, not to mention their no exceptions cancellation policy—which is totally a turn-off. Even the discounted all-inclusive lodging vacation I've been daydreaming about was out of the picture with my work schedule, sigh.

I was almost at my wits end, then, my friend Kiara brought up this cool new Getaway experience she recently got back from at a beautiful tiny cabin outpost nestled nearby in Hill Country, Wimberley, Texas for $99 a night! I immediately told my boyfriend, and we decided why not go ahead and try it for the weekend!

6. Facilities and Amenities (What's included)

So we went online to Getaway's website and chose the Cabin for Two, which actually had everything we wanted for a weekend escape in nature—giant windows with beautiful views and great amenities including: a comfy queen bed that sleeps two, warm shower, bath products, AC and heat, plus a mini-kitchen stocked with cooking supplies and light meal provisions available for less than $10 each. And, with self-check-in and check-out, booking was as simple and easy! That next weekend we set off into the auburn sunset, next stop—Getaway Hill County!

When we got to our tiny hand-crafted hideaway we instantly fell in love.

5. The Blue Hole Experience

The next morning after my boyfriend cooked us breakfast (yes, he's house-trained), our first stop was the Blue Hole Park Trail Loop with one of the most beautiful natural swimming holes in Texas. We made sure to make a reservation in advanced, and boy can I still smell the oak, cypress and cedar trees surrounding the crystal blue water and canopied trails, I didn't hesitate for a second and jumped in body-first. After a dip, we spent the rest of the afternoon in leisure completing the 1.6-mile hike around the Blue Hole Trail, can you say unplug and unwind, I couldn't recommend visiting this magical place enough.

4. The Wimberley Valley Driftwood Estates Winery Experience

Later in the evening, we headed to the Driftwood Estates Winery which had a great wine varietal, and the winery hostesses were very friendly and helpful in explaining the various wines. The building garden areas and facilities were set perfectly on lush rolling acres of surrounding vineyards with the cutest donkeys and little ponies—and the passing burros, longhorns, double decker English buses which added to the atmosphere, just perfect. Plan your to make a reservation in advanced and soak up the experience of tasting and exploring, a must-go winery!

3. The Wimberly Zipline Adventures Experience

After a sound sleep under the moon and stars, we woke up the next morning with one thing on our mind, the last and final stop on our Getaway weekend-adventure (and arguably most favorite) which included soaring over 10-miles of breathtaking views of Wimberley Valley creeks and canyons, absolutely a thrilling and unforgettable experience. Another must-go, you'll learn about the local ecosystem of plants and wildlife, local history, and other interesting Wimberley area facts. By the end of our tour, I was bursting with adrenaline and excitement. We had so much fun, and I must say I can't wait for our next weekend escape!

2. Disconnect to Reconnect

We got back home late after a late dinner following the ziplining, we were so exhausted but honestly I would not trade a great experience for anything else in the world. It's nice to disconnect from the daily grind and reconnect with nature. I was so happy with my stay and how clean and cozy the cabins were. If you haven't had the chance to Getaway, then what are you waiting for!

1. Experience Your First Getaway

If you're looking for a safe, clean, and rejuvenating place to both relax and have an adventure, whether with your partner or friends, I'd highly recommend Getaway.

Plan Your Escape With Getaway! Book One Month In Advance And Take $20 Off Your Fall Adventure With The Code FALL20!

It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.

Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).

Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!