Usually, the first week of September brings barbecues, a desperation to feel the kiss of the ocean one last time, and a lingering nostalgia for brand new notebooks, pens and highlighters. This year, of course, things may feel a little different, but whether schools reopen or not, it’s still back-to-school season. And what better way to mark that occasion than some back-to-school shopping? And that doesn’t mean buying stationery for nothing: these same tools that helped you in school can help you learning a language! And to help you grab fall by the horns and settle into a productive season of linguistic progress, we’ve compiled a short list of helpful language-learning tools you’ll want on your list.
1. A Journal
Rote memorization isn’t really the most fun (or even the most effective) way to learn a new language. Even if you’re ditching the textbook for an app, writing things down is a proven way to help you retain what you’re learning. Plus, you can have a lot of fun with a language-learning journal (especially if you’ve got the crafting bug). You can add your own illustrations, include custom sections for vocab or verb conjugations, and use it to track your progress. While all you technically need is a notebook and a pen, you can get more creative and pick up whatever art supplies you’ll need to make this journal your own.
This one definitely feels like a throwback, but there’s a reason why there are so many apps designed to recreate the mental experience of studying with flashcards: it works. And if you handwrite them, you get the added cognitive benefit mentioned above. And if physical flashcards aren’t your thing, you can still get the same benefits by using a tool like Quizlet.
3. Your Phone
What’d you think this was, 1998? We’re now living in an age in which the phrase “there’s an app for that” sounds super dated. Naturally, there’s an app for language learning (hint: Babbel, the number-one selling language learning app in the world!). Babbel is an incredibly effective tool because its lessons were crafted by more than 100 language experts, but it’s designed to go where you go and fit your busy lifestyle. And in addition to being one of your primary language-learning tools, your phone is good for lots of other fun, helpful things, like playing foreign-language songs and podcasts.
4. Sticky Notes
This is also an oldie but goodie, but many language learning experts swear by the power of the sticky note. When you’re first beginning to crack a new language, full-scale immersion is the goal you want to strive for. One way to start? Covering your entire home or apartment in sticky notes that help you remember the words for everyday objects.
Yes, you can pretty much look anything up online these days. And yet, there’s still something kind of nice about having a physical foreign-language dictionary you can bookmark, annotate and carry with you on your travels. Plus, most published dictionaries are automatically trustworthy sources of information — not something we can say about the internet at large.
6. The International Phonetic Alphabet
When you’re ready to get into the nitty gritty of pronunciation, the International Phonetic Alphabet will be your friend. This isn’t so much something you can purchase at a big box retailer so much as a handy reference guide to keep in your arsenal of language-learning tools. If you like having a physical version of things, though, you can always print it out (and even laminate it!). The IPA effectively teaches you how to pronounce every spoken sound in language and then provides a standardized phonetic language to help remove the guesswork from correct pronunciation.