A black teenager in an orange shirt writing in an open notebook at a desk, maybe working on some of the listed language learning exercises.

8 Language Learning Exercises You’ve Never Tried (And How To Use Them)

Language learners often have what we call the “curse of opportunity”. There are simply so many potential language learning exercises to aid them with learning new words or grammar rules, that it deciding what to do quickly becomes overwhelming. 

Let’s be real, learning a foreign language isn’t like studying math or science. Just understanding the logic (that’s the grammar) behind a language won’t get you through a conversation. In the same way, rote vocabulary learning is the most boring learning experience on the planet.

And while watching movies, reading comics, and chatting with tutors can be fun, even those practice sessions can feel repetitive. And, honestly, how many times can you write about your day in a journal format?

My days aren’t so intriguing that I’m going to learn an array of new vocabulary words just from journaling. 

But that doesn’t mean you should settle for boring language study, either. 

8 Fun Language Learning Exercises

When we typically think about “fun ways” to learn a language, we try to remember how we learned our native language. And while immersion can seem like a fun guessing game, it usually becomes mentally exhausting, especially if you have other commitments. 

Too often we talk about the main skills of language comprehension (reading, writing, listening, and speaking), rather than the actions that foster those skills. For beginners, it may not matter. But as you approach the intermediate plateau, this distinction becomes more and more important. For language learners that work full-time and can’t devote hours and hours to traditional study periods, this is crucial. 

Over the past few years of me trying to keep up with my love for languages and balance that passion with work and burnout, I’ve decided that really only a few central concepts matter:

  1. Exposure – How often do you have access to the language?
  2. Quality practice – It’s not how long but what you do.
  3. Strategic phrases – Learn how to explain yourself simply early on. Because it’s likely you’ll never remember every word.  

Let me give you an example of how I use these concepts:

I don’t get a lot of spare time. There are probably at least nine different languages I love or want to work on, and most of them are still at the A1 level.

So I rank the languages I need according to priority have to give them the most exposure time. I need to be able to communicate in Hindi, so I focus on Hindi exercises. It’s high on my priority list. But Arabic, which is a language I took in college and don’t need immediately, is a bit lower at the moment. So I listen to occasional podcasts to keep up. 

I also try to use exposure to test my levels and learn certain vocabulary. When I was learning how to cook, I watched only Hindi-language cooking shows, for example, to complement what I was learning in the kitchen. 

The next is quality practice. Let’s stick with the Hindi example. I’m trying to improve recall, so I actually try to write a lot. And when I’m working with new vocab, I try to use it in interesting ways, like writing poetry. I may spend 20 minutes on this activity. But those 20 minutes of writing from scratch tend to stick with me far longer than writing words over and over.

Finally, strategic phrases. It’s important to know how to get around language issues early on. And it’s not a tactic I took advantage of when I was starting out. Learn how to define things, ask questions about spelling or meaning, and try to learn words with synonyms, if possible. No matter how amazing your brain is, it’s likely that you’ll forget words, just as you do in your mother tongue. Learning “explainer” phrases early on can help you get around that problem without hindering your fluency. 

Anyway, keeping these ideas in mind, let’s move on to the fun stuff. 

1. Write Poems

I recommend reading and writing poems for beginners. Why? Because they don’t have to be long, and quite frankly, they don’t have to make sense. They don’t even have to rhyme! 

In recent years, I’ve been using this method a lot, and I love it, primarily because poetry is hard to define. Normally, I pick 3-7 words I’m trying to learn, and fit them into a poem.

If I’m a beginner (A1-A2), I stick with freeform, simple lines. Short sentences, repetition. The goal is to use the words and create images with my limited vocabulary. 

For intermediate learners, you can have a bit more fun with it. Try to adhere to a structure, like a haiku, or even rhyme. 

You can make poems as long or short as you like. You can repeat key phrases. 

Honestly, during my whole time as a student of languages and linguistics, writing fiction, poetry, and essays were always saved for the advanced courses, and it’s really a waste. This is a really great way to play with vocabulary.

In addition to writing poems, you can read and listen to them. If you follow along and try to speak alongside a native speaker recording, then you can even work on your pronunciation.


2. Family Tree

This is another exercise for beginners. The topic of family is often one of the first vocabulary units, so why not turn it into a family tree exercise?

As a super beginner, simply list your relatives on a tree with their name and the translation for “uncle”, “aunt”, and so on. Then add information as you learn.

For example, you’ll want to describe how your aunt looks like. Then discuss her likes and dislikes. Her childhood, and so on. As you learn new vocabulary, use your family tree to practice words and grammar rules that are new or that you may not use regularly when describing your own life.  

3. Time Machine

Both students and language teachers would probably enjoy this exercise. It’s simple. Either write a letter or record audio of yourself speaking your second language. Then hide it and return to it someday in the future. 

While it can be fun to save it for a year, I recommend a week. Why a week? Because you don’t want to forget too much. The time machine exercise is great for spaced repetition without being overly boring or repetitive. After all, you don’t need to write the same thing each time. You can literally write anything in your letter to yourself. 

Ideally, I would write once a week to be discovered in the next week. Use your weekly letters or audio as a structured practice to master new vocab and grammar. And at the end of the month, craft a spontaneous letter or recording and send it to yourself to read in the next two to four weeks. 

For teachers, this is a great technique for classroom use, especially to show students how much they can learn within a span of time. 

4. Improv Exercises

Like many language learnings, I struggle with speaking. It’s incredibly difficult, and I get so anxious, I tend to not speak at all. So I took care in looking for practice exercises for this skill.

While exposure to listening can help, you still need a quality activity to help with speaking. And I found improv skits to be the best.

Improv was made to be a group, interactive exercise. But it doesn’t have to be. While feedback and interaction with another learner or native speaker can be useful, I have found that you can still make a habit of using these exercises by yourself. 

So what is a good example? Currently, I’m using two specific and interactive exercises:

  1. And then what? – In this exercise, I start with a simple statement, such as, “I went for a walk.” Then I imagine someone asks, “And then what?” There are no wrong answers, but I try to keep this chain going until I run out of ideas. You can use this in writing or speaking. But the idea is, of course, recall.
  2. I’m an X and I want… – This is similar to the exercise above. Here, I would say, “I’m a teacher and I want a vacation.” Like the first exercise, I try to keep the chain going. Why do I want a vacation? What vacation do I want to have? And so on. The key here is not only to be spontaneous when creating answers but even when creating a prompt. You can do this on the spot and say the first thing that comes to mind, or have a list of professions and desires to choose from. 

There are, of course, many more improv exercises. But I took the beginner ones that I can easily integrate into my learning. The key is to resist lunging for your smartphone and looking up vocabulary. Try to keep speaking without a reference for as long as possible. No matter how wild your answers become, it’s okay. The point is to practice rapid recall and exploit your strategic phrases as much as possible. 

5. Write a Screenplay

To be honest, I keep saying I’m going to do this and I get too busy. So I would recommend screenplay writing to B1 and above, and if you have a bit more spare time on your hands.

Why screenplays? Because they are dialogue-based. The description of each scene only has to be a few lines. But you should focus on what the characters are saying. This is a great way to play with slang, jokes, subtext, and other conversational habits that don’t come up in the formal textbook.  

And if you enjoy acting, you can act out your own scenes to practice speaking. 

6. Framed Story

Next is the framed story. Basically, you have a story within a story within a story. This is a great upper intermediate exercise since you can work with more complex sentence structures and grammar without getting bored. And each frame doesn’t have to be a novel, perhaps a few short paragraphs at most. 

I enjoy this exercise because it helps you to create word associations and use vocabulary in different contexts. And, personally, I do try to restrict the vocabulary so I’m learning keywords as I go along. 

7. Fanfiction

For advanced learners, fanfiction is the way to go. You already have the characters and the setting. But you can add your own spin on the stories you love. And, ideally, you’ll get reviews or comments from native speakers if you decide to post your work. 

Fanfiction has also evolved over the years. You can write 100-word drabbles or chapters, short stories, or full-length novels. It all depends on your interest. And this is a great way to expand your vocab or shift passive vocabulary to active use. 


8. Lenormand Reading

This exercise is a bit more involved. But it can be really fun if you enjoy card games.

Lenormand is a type of card reading exercise, similar to Tarot cards. Except all of the cards are of everyday items. For example, the dog card symbolizes friendship, the house is your home and security. Some connections are less obvious, such as the fish translating to financial wellness.

But every reading comes with at least two cards, with the second card description the first. So a woman and a dog would mean a female friend, for example.

I enjoy Lenormand readings in English, so it was fun to adapt the practice to second language learning. The most common spread is to pull 5 cards and create a story or string a sentence based on the images.

This is incredibly difficult, to be honest, and I’ve tried it at different levels, but B2+ is really where you should be to read cards without significant pauses or issues. However, this is probably the ideal situation for practicing speaking and rapid recall. Because you’re literally creating stories on the fly. At the same time, card meanings can actually become quite complex, so you can always associate new words with the cards. 

If this method sounds interesting, I use the Rana George Deck, which has illustrations is based on her childhood in Lebanon.

Share your favorite language learning exercises in the comments ?

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