The advent of the internet has revolutionized almost every aspect of life, from shopping to music – and language learning is no exception. Gone are the days of sitting at a desk for hours on end slaving over textbooks to become fluent. These days, you can acquire a new language through hundreds of engaging methods and thousands of innovative resources right from the comfort of your computer or smartphone.
Some of the most popular online language learning methods are purposefully designed: online classes and language apps like Duolingo, for example. However, while these kinds of study resources are incredibly helpful, one of the most effective ways to enhance any language journey is to act like a local.
Accessing content that’s intended for native speakers of your target language helps you get a more immersive, up-to-date understanding and can speed up your progress significantly. Of course, since this material is designed for local citizens in the target language country, much of it is not available to language learners overseas.
That’s where a VPN comes in.
What is a VPN?
Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN is a way to connect to the internet via a remote server. VPNs allow you to select servers all over the world and reroute all your traffic through them. This offers two main benefits: it keeps you anonymous and secure when using the internet, and it allows you to trick websites into thinking you’re based in a different country.
But what does this have to do with language learning? Well, with increased security and the ability to bypass geo-blocking, you’ll be able to access all the local language materials a country has to offer without restrictions – most of it for free!
Still wondering how exactly a VPN could help you? Here are 6 ways you can use yours to develop your understanding of your target language and become fluent in no time.
1. Watch Films and TV in your target language
It may sound hard to believe that something as fun as watching TV and movies could actually be helping you study, but video content is actually one of the best ways to supplement your language learning. It helps with your listening skills, and watching modern films and TV will also help you pick up on colloquial language.
Unfortunately, while Netflix may already have some films or TV shows in your target language, their selection of foreign media is often small due to licensing restrictions. This is where a VPN can be a huge help. When you use your VPN to connect to a server in another country, you’ll be able to access that country’s entire Netflix library, almost all of which will be in your target language. This gives you access to enough foreign films and TV shows to supplement your language learning for a long time to come.
On top of that, many countries air their TV channels online for free. However, these free streaming websites are always restricted to citizens of that country. Using a VPN server in your target country will bypass any geo-blocking restrictions, allowing you to watch live TV in a different language to your heart’s content.
Just make sure you choose one with very high speeds so you can stream all your favorite foreign content in HD without buffering or lag.
Read more: Best VPN for Streaming
2. Get books in your target language
Unsurprisingly, reading is also a highly effective way to progress in your target language. Reading immerses you in language, giving context to all the vocabulary and grammar points you’ve been learning in your online class, textbook, or app.
But where can you find books in your target language? After all, most book shops don’t stock foreign books, and those that do usually have a very small selection. Even online, many ebook stores (like the Amazon Kindle marketplace, for example) are restricted mainly to English books.
One way to find books in your target language is to download them from torrent websites. Of course, in most countries around the world, torrenting copyrighted materials like books infringes on laws and could get you into big trouble. If you use a VPN, however, you won’t need to worry about that. Using a VPN keeps you hidden from your internet provider, so no one will be able to catch you downloading books for free.
And if you prefer to buy legitimately, a server in your target language’s country will also give you access to foreign online bookstores. Amazon Kindle Japan, for example, is region-locked, but a VPN allows you to download their manga and other books from anywhere in the world.
Read more: Best VPN for torrenting
3. Talk to people online in your target language
While consuming materials like films, TV shows, and movies are all excellent ways to digest a language you’re learning, nothing beats conversation with real people. Talking to people online in your target language forces you to actively remember and use everything you’ve learned and helps you learn how to communicate naturally and informally.
It also gives you the opportunity to ask specific questions that might not be in your textbook or on your app. On top of that, if you practice with a language exchange partner who is also learning your language, laughing and bonding over mistakes can help you keep up your morale when you hit a slump.
Of course, talking to people online does come with risks. Some online chat platforms display your location when you use them, which can be a concern when talking to strangers you don’t yet trust. In addition, many chat apps aren’t encrypted, which means anyone with enough know-how could spy on and even infiltrate your conversations.
Using a VPN while talking online keeps you hidden from your partner as well as keeping you both hidden from any snoopers or hackers.
4. Book a holiday to practice your target language
Once you’ve gotten to grips with conversations online, why not take things one step further by traveling abroad to use your target language in person? Without a doubt, physically immersing yourself in the country that speaks your language is the best and fastest way to learn it. After all, when you’re forced to understand a language to survive and get around, you’re sure to pick things up very quickly. But how can a VPN help here?
It may surprise you, but a VPN can actually help you save money when booking flights and hotels online. While many people assume flight rates are the same for everyone, money-hungry airlines often raise prices based on location.
Using a VPN server in a lower income country (or the country the airline is based in) could help you secure savings. Another way airlines catch you out is by raising the prices each time you visit their site. Once they know what tickets you want, they’ll know you’ll pay whatever you have to in order to get them.
Clearing your history and then hiding your IP address with a VPN will stop airlines from figuring out you’ve checked prices on their website before. The same goes for hotel bookings as well as extras like car hire.
As an added bonus, if you plan on using your computer or phone abroad, a VPN will help keep you away from hackers when you connect to free, public wi-fi networks in cafes and restaurants.
5. Join online forums in your target language
Alongside talking to people one-on-one, typing on foreign forums is very useful method for language learning. On forums, you can learn a lot about the modern day culture of a country as well as colloquial language use – two things which aren’t covered in many courses.
Plus, since many forums are restricted to a certain topic, they allow you to learn and practice more specific terminology that you’ll be able to use when discussing your interests.
However, some online forums in foreign countries are restricted by location. Popular Japanese textboard 5channel, for example, is geo-locked so only people based in Japan can access it. Thankfully, with a VPN, that’s no issue. All you need to do is choose a Japanese server on your VPN (or a server based in whatever country you need) and you’ll have no probably logging in and engaging with natives.
In addition, if you’re interested in controversial forums such as those based around politics, a VPN will mask your IP address so you don’t need to worry about being targeted by those with opposing views.
6. Listen to radio in your target language
Last but not least, another great online language learning method you can use with a VPN is listening to the radio. Unsurprisingly, radio is great for developing listening skills – one of the hardest areas for many language learners to progress in, especially when you take different accents and dialects into account.
While TV and film also help with listening, radio forces you to focus on nothing but the sounds, since you won’t have any visual clues or subtitles to give context to what you’re hearing.
Every country has its own radio stations, but most of them are restricted to residents of that country. Even online, many radio streaming services won’t broadcast to other countries. This is usually due to advertising restrictions. Using a VPN to connect to a server in your target language’s country will ensure that you can access any streaming radio station you like without facing a geo-blocking error.
Remember that radio stations are often different across cities; if your VPN has more than one server in your chosen country, try a range of them to find different stations and keep your listening fresh.
As you can see, there are numerous language learning benefits to using a Virtual Private Network. The list above only scratches the surface; VPNs can help you access any type of geo-blocked foreign content online, as well as keeping you safe and helping you save money when traveling.
Once you’ve tried the methods above, don’t hesitate to find your own uses for your VPN that fit your language learning style and journey.