How to learn another language – Part 2

Part 2: Receptive Skills – Reading and Listening

In part 1 of this series, 5 questions every language student should ask themselves, we looked at some ways you can stay motivated on your language journey. Now we will focus specifically on what you can do to improve your receptive skills (reading and listening). The lifelong language learning skills discussed in this article are aimed at intermediate level learners of any language, but these ideas can be adapted for lower or higher levels with a little bit of creativity.

First things first. Before anything can come out of your mouth in a new language, something has to go into your brain. If you have ever tried to learn another language, you might have noticed that to start with using your receptive skills was much easier than using your productive skills (speaking and writing).

Reading
Have you ever stopped and thought about how you read in your mother tongue? Now might be a good moment to do so. Did you realise that you probably don’t read every single word?

Notice what and how you read over the next 48 hours. Emails, text messaging, news articles, adverts, we speed read them all trying to get the general meaning and main points (skimming) or locating specific information like a time or an email address (scanning). Interestingly the skills we use when reading in our native language rarely transfer effortlessly into our new language. We have to consciously work on them.

How to read a news article:
1. Look at the headline and the pictures that accompany the text. Think about what you will read. What do you know about the subject already?
2. Skim the text quickly for general understanding. Were your predictions correct?
3. Read the text a second time, this time for detailed understanding. Scan for who, what, when, where and why.

That’s it, you’re done! You didn’t even need to read or comprehend every word to get a satisfying level of understanding. If you want to, you can take a minute to process the text for useful language. Underline words you want to look up, words you would like to use, synonyms etc.

Learning about text composition:
1. Find a newspaper article online that looks like it might be interesting to you. Don’t read it yet. Print it out.
2. Cut it up into paragraphs and mix them up.
3. Make yourself a cup of tea.
4. Read the headline/title. What does it make you think of? What do you already know about this topic?
5. Take some time to read some of the paragraphs (in any order), does what you read confirm some of your ideas from step 4?
6. Try and put the article back into the correct order. Think about what you would expect to read in the first and last paragraphs. Then fit in the middle ones.
7. Read it through from the beginning, does it read well? Do you want to change around any pieces?
8. Finally compare it to the original version online.

Tip: Look for links between paragraphs by asking yourself questions:
-Who (or what) are they talking about? Are they mentioned again?
-When did this happen? Are they talking about the past, present or the future? Do the tenses/time references match?
-Are there any connecting words (eg. But or however for contrast / furthermore or and for giving more information)

Listening
You can attack the listening skill in a similar way to reading. Note when and how you listen in your mother tongue. I listen a lot to the radio. But I don’t listen carefully to every word when the DJs are speaking. I tune in and out depending on whether the topic being discussed interests me. Or if I’m at a train station I prick up my ears when I hear my destination mentioned, but the rest of the time I don’t pay attention to the announcements. Can you apply the same listening techniques to your new language?

It’s a good idea to connect listening activities to habits you already have. I’m currently working on my Italian at the same time as taking a Dutch beginner course. To make sure I work on my listening skills in each language I have assigned a different language to regular activities. I listen to Dutch radio and my Dutch coursebook CD in the car. I listen to Italian radio when I’m hanging out at home. Unpleasant housework (washing up) is accompanied by podcasts from my favourite London radio station in my native tongue, English.

Have you ever tried watching TV in your new language? Maybe you can re-watch your favourite film or TV series. Make the most of the internet, there are plenty of free online resources that you can use to improve your receptive skills.

Try and apply these tips in the next week and see how you get on. Measure your progress (for some ideas on how to do that check out part 1 in this series). Tell me how it goes!

In part 3 we will cover how to work on those scary productive skills.

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For information about English language courses in the South Holland area you can email me at info @ englishvoice .nl

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash