Many people struggle with learning languages, or they hear that they need to also learn about the culture as well as the language.
That has always been my favorite part when it comes to learning a language, but I noticed that many people may not know how or where to start with learning about the culture.
You came to just the right place! If you need a break from conjugating French verbs and perfecting the Madrid accent of Spanish, here are some ideas to keep your language studies rich with reminders about the culture of the countries that speak your target language.
Even if you never travel to a French-speaking country, chances are you may meet somebody from a French-speaking country, and it would be a great conversation starter to talk about their culture. Or if you do someday end up going hiking in Argentina, it would be great to know about Argentinian history so that you may understand a certain monument, instead of just knowing how to conjugate a verb.
So without further ado, here are some fun culture ideas!
1. Read a history book.
This is the first step for understanding any culture. You cannot understand a person without knowing their past. Likewise, you cannot understand a culture without knowing the history. I'm not expecting every student of Italian to become an expert in Italian history, but you should know the basics of a country's history and culture before diving into your language.
Is there a topic you are passionate about?
Sports? Maybe find out about some great sports stars from Spanish-speaking countries. Music? Maybe find a great German-speaking musician. Politics? Maybe find a great revolutionary or ruler that France had.
History is a very diverse topic, so the secret to catching on quickly is to find the part you are passionate about. Of course, you should also know a general overview of France or Germany or whatever language you are studying.
2. Eat some food!
Treat yourself to German chocolate if you are studying German, some authentic Korean food if you are studying Korean, or some French crepes if you are studying French.
Food tells you about what grows in the country and is an enjoyable way to think about the culture of the country. For languages such as French or Spanish, which are spoken by many countries in very different parts of the world, it may be fun to divide up the continents with some friends and, for example, have food from Spain made by one person, food from Mexico by another, and food from Ecuador by another, etc.
3. Watch a classic film.
If you know of a classic movie in Arabic, and you are studying Arabic, see if you can find that movie and watch it. Watch it multiple times. At first, watch it to enjoy the story and hopefully learn something about the values that culture holds dear (family, friendship, etc.). The second time, listen for understanding the accents and grammatical structure.
4. Read folk stories.
Children's books and fairy tales tell many interesting things about cultures, including lessons for life such as being brave and being kind. Even better is reading it in the original language since it will introduce you to basic sentences. Folk stories also usually have a bit of history in them that has been exaggerated through the years. All of them contain a lesson that people in the past wanted to pass on to future generations.
5. Enjoy the arts.
I'm not an artist, but I think everybody can appreciate a bit of theater, painting, dance, and opera and enjoy the story it has to tell. When you want a break from grammar, relax and listen to a Broadway soundtrack in English, listen to an Italian opera, watch videos of a Thai dance, or look at a famous Dutch painting. The arts offer wonderful stories in their own way and expose you to another world. As you are watching an Albanian or Georgian sword fight dance, think of the symbolism and enjoy the talents!
6. Look up pictures of scenery.
That is a picture of Angel Falls, for all my Spanish learners and "Up" fans out there. ;)
Are you studying Russian? You could look up pictures on Google Maps of the many different parts of Russia. Or if you are studying Indonesian, it may be fun to read about the unique animals that live there. While this is more focused on the land and nature, it still helps you get a full picture of the country you are learning about by letting you visualize it.
7. Talk to people.
Get to know them and their stories! As you talk, you are exchanging cultures and learning about each other's worlds. You can use this as a chance to practice your language, but if neither of you is up for it, you can stick to one language and just have fun together.
Remember, language learning is a journey in and of itself, and the more you engage in the culture of the language you are learning, the quicker you will learn.