Learning a language without immersion is about accumulating hours. The more time you can sneak in within the target language, the better.

Some tips and tricks:

Computer Operating System

This is an oldy but a goody, and well worth it: set your computer operating system up in your target language. Especially with foreign alphabets or writing systems, learning to read quickly (sight-read) is a physical practice, like building a muscle. The more you exercise, the stronger you get.

The Keyboard:  I found it was essential for me to get a keyboard that was labeled in both target alphabet and English. Typing without the keyboard labeled was laborious and slow. You can get stickers of course as well, but I was at a point where it was time to upgrade my computer anyway.  Apple will ship with exactly the keyboard you want (from most major languages) for the same price, and mine arrived within two days (from China! Didn’t order express shipping either!) (International logistics are incredible.)

Some downsides I’ve found to switching OS?  Excel is buggy and crashes more (this might prove less problematic on a windows machine obv). It works, but it changes all decimal point markers to the European comma, and I can’t seem to find that specific comma on my keyboard-  so the only way I can add it is by making a fraction, and then copy/pasting the resulting comma. erghh.

Larger websites will identify your operating system language and display in target language, sometimes providing an extra challenge when you weren’t really in the mood. While it can be a little overwhelming when trying to work quickly, it highlights good vs bad graphic design. Google tends to look fine. Linkedin just has too much info on the page.


With the secret-infiltration of print-on-demand technology, it has become easier than ever to get foreign language books shipped via Amazon prime. Many of the Arabic language books I have bought show a print date of the date on which I ordered them, and are priced ‘normally’-  $12-$20 for a paperback with free shipping. The challenge is actually the search function on Amazon- some are listed with titles transliterated to English, some are half titled in Arabic. Search and search/suggest basically don’t work, so I just browse the shelves every couple of months and buy whatever looks good.

Conversation Groups

Most popular languages have a local conversation group that is free, or close to free, where you can meet and try out your language with people of all levels. I go to the French breakfast, which ranges from complete beginners to native speakers looking to preserve their language. Since there wasn’t an Arabic conversation group, we started one. (Sign up for the email list here for reminders.) Other places to look? Meetup, and ask around at language classes.

Sloooow Language

Several popular languages have slow audio recordings of news and cultural information that are really helpful for improving audio comprehension, though sometimes a little boring. (Slow French, German, Italian, etc. There isn’t a slow Arabic.)

Additionally, I have used an app called SwiftPlayer which allows for incremental slowing of audio and video files. While itunes and ipod have a built in ‘half speed’ setting, that is too slow to be useful. Really, you want 80-85% speed.


One-on-one conversation tutoring is, in my opinion, the absolute fastest way to learn a language and become conversational. Finding a tutor whom you like as a friend and intellectual partner is really important, because tutoring is basically hanging out and talking about life with someone. If you don’t click on a personality level, it’s going to be hard to really learn the language. (I want to set up a language-matching system based on myers-briggs types, more on that later.)

Also- a tutor must CORRECT you when you make mistakes, so it is important to retain some level of formality to the relationship. It is hard for your friends to correct you.  Now, there are many programs for online tutoring, but, in my experience, there is a lagtime with overseas VOIP or skype that is too annoying to be truly useful. I have a friend who lives in Saudi Arabia. We both have ‘good’ internet connections (i.e. normal for USA/Saudi). Talking over Skype is extremely difficult because of connectivity issues and sound clarity issues.  If you want to learn good and detailed pronunciation, do it in person where you can hear the details.


With some languages (such as French + Arabic in Portland) there are many volunteer opportunities that will put you in direct contact with native speakers who are immigrants or refugees.  This is probably better for intermediate to advanced learners because it may end up requiring detailed conversations about unusual subjects.


Resources (General)

Defense Language Institute Online products: don’t get turned off by the name. Some of the best free resources I’ve found.

Duolingo. Fun. Use it in reverse to English if it doesn’t have your target language as a target.

Amazon: Foreign Language Books

Browse through major University Departments that teach your target language. I’ve found a lot of interesting resources that way.

Resources (Arabic)

Betterworld2100 post on getting to advanced level

Arablit.org– a daily English language blog about everything going on in Arabic language literature.  Good for finding people to read.

Also from Dliflc: Phone Conversation Free Podcasts in Dialect. Incredible free resource.

Amazon: Arabic language books

Jamalon: Amazon bookseller

Videos of Arabic Language Classes At U Texas

2016-04-05 09.13.15

Like my writing? Please friend me on snapchat for a real behind the scenes @brookthere or follow this blog by email here – click that follow button in the lower right corner!

Posted by:Brook DeLorme

5 replies on “Language Learning without Immersion

  1. Thanks, Brooke. Some good ideas. One of my favorites: rent movies in the target language( mine are Russian and Slovak) and watch it a couple times with English subtitles to learn the story. Then use it with target language subtitles to really see what is being said. Finally try without subtitles to see how you do. I have a couple I watch over and over because I like them but if you hate repetition switch around. Libraries, Netflix, Amazon prime.

  2. Hi Brook,
    This is great, Thank you.
    I was teaching in Abu Dhabi for a few years and learned quite a lot of Arabic, which I loved….but one thing leads to another and you just let it slip.
    I’m determined to start up again with such a wonderful language.
    Regards. Marie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s