How to learn another language – Part 1

Part 1: 5 questions every language student should ask themselves.

Study topic or living language?

So you want to learn a new language, what’s the first thing you do?
Look up courses, buy CDs and a grammar book, order a learner’s dictionary…

The traditional approach to language learning involves going to class, working from a coursebook, doing a series of activities and lots of homework. Every student in the class wants to get the most out of their investment of time and money. But many discover that the initial enthusiasm doesn’t last, they don’t have time to do their homework, they are not satisfied with their teacher or they miss a few lessons.

Is it still possible to benefit from the effort put in? It is if you realise that learning a language is a journey, not a destination. You can use the momentum gained from your initial actions to maintain progress and motivation. How?

I encourage students to take an active part in the learning process by asking themselves the following questions:

1. Who has responsibility for learning anyway? Me or my teacher?

I have found that students who consciously think about and evaluate their learning benefit more than those who do not. Is it enough to go to class once a week and do the set homework? Many would agree that more is needed.

Take responsibility for your learning.

2. What kind of learner am I? What’s my learning style?

Do you like learning in group classes or do you enjoy quiet personal study? Do you learn better from studying or from doing? Do you like doing word searches but hate those filling in the gaps tasks?

Notice how you learn best and keeping doing it that way. Ditch the activities that drag you down and demotivate you.

3. Is it better to learn a language on my own or in a group?

Is it possible to learn a language alone? To a degree, yes. But you would probably agree that at some point you will need someone to speak to. You don’t necessarily need to enroll in a language course. Instead you could:

-Join a club that uses the language you want to learn.
-Find an interesting LinkedIn group and join in with an online discussion.
-Ask a friend on Facebook to introduce you to one of their friends who speaks your target language.
-Join a cookery club or fitness class in the language you want to improve. Combine your language goals with learning something else that you’re interested in.
-Check out what the local community that speak your choice of language are up to on meetup.com

4. How can I measure/evaluate my progress?

Keep good notes. Making and keeping word lists (or flash cards), with new vocabulary recorded by topic with examples, opposites, synonyms and notes on common errors will help you review what you have learnt and see how far you have come.

What about keeping a learner’s diary? Write down activities you did to work on the language and how it went. Was it easy? Or difficult? Did you enjoy it? Did you retain what you had learnt or forget it all? Use your findings to become a better learner.

Most smartphones have a voice recording app. You could record yourself now and then again in a month. Listen for pronunciation issues. Check how you use the tenses. Compare your recording with a native speaker. You will have concrete evidence of your progress!

5. How do I start?

Be proactive. Fact: The more you work on something, the more benefit you’re going to get.

-Personalise what you study by choosing topics you find interesting.
-Ask your teacher for suggestions.
-Find ways to live in the language you are studying.
-Build new habits (or transfer existing habits like reading the news from your mother tongue to your new language).

I hope you have found these ideas useful and that they motivate you to continue on your language journey, one step at a time.

In parts 2 and 3 we will specifically look at what you can do to work on your receptive skills (reading and listening) and productive skills (speaking and writing).

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