Your Study Guides and Strategies starts here!

Think like a wise man
but communicate in the language of the people
William Butler Yeats
1865 - 1939
Irish poet, playwright

Learning to learn series

Language learning strategies

In learning a language, we follow the advice that
practice makes perfect, and patience is a helpful virtue.

The world can be your classroom—through home or school.
Explore these options to find strategies of learning and using a language that match your interests, strengths and challenges. Use the Internet and technology as an environment to make your tasks fun and interesting.

Skills include listening, speaking, memorization, reading, writing, and test taking. At the beginning memorization and repetition are important, but do not be discouraged if you seem to go too slowly.

Listening and understanding

  • Practice listening!
    Infants “listen” for more than a year before they can say anything close to “mom” or “dad”.
    Watch videos and listen to music in your language, download Internet files with “speech” in the language. Try to recognize words, even sounds. Don’t bother trying to understand, just get used to the sound of the language.
  • Use the language lab.
    Prepare yourself by reading exercises, then put them aside and listen.
    Only speak or write when asked to.
  • When others in class speak,
    listen for what they say and mentally build images of their answers—in the language itself.
  • Listen while a tutor or friend reads to you
    maybe even something as simple as a children’s book.
  • Make friend with a native speaker and practice!

Practicing listening when learning a language
an essential component to both understanding and reproducing sounds,
as well as the rhythm, accent and inflections of speech.
Not everyone has access to a native speaker, class or lab--
but your desktop, laptop and handheld technologies can help.

Listening practice

Download a media program that has the text of what is said.

  • Review the text one sentence at a time and
    familiarize yourself with the vocabulary.
    (Study the grammar as a separate exercise and focus now on the listening/speech)
  • Follow a sentence several times while listening
    until you are comfortable with its pronunciation in the context of the sentences.
  • Without looking into the transcript,
    repeat the sentence (say it aloud) exactly as you heard it.
    Record your best effort and compare.
  • Listen to the text in short paragraphs or chunks.
    Look away and try to summarize in your words the content.
    Record and listen to your summary for review.
  • Listen to the whole conversation or story without interruption.
    Summarize this "whole" and record, listen and compare.

Speaking

  • Reading silently is not productive:
    use your voice! Read aloud: think of it as training your mouth to make the new sounds!
  • Drills:
    Learn a short standard sentence, then substitute vocabulary, even words you look up for fun.
    Subject and verbs can change (I am going; you are going; etc.)
    Objects can change (I buy a car; I buy a CD; etc.)
  • In class, if your “answer” does not come to mind
    repeat the question in the language, or use your new language to say that you don’t know, or need help! For this last, prepare a standard response that you can fall back on, but be prepared to respond to a question that follows your response! Stay in the mind set of the language, giving your brain time to work in the new language.

Vocabulary

  • Be inventive in acquiring new words
    Post note cards around your room to learn and identify what is in the room, refrigerator, computer, car, etc. Speak the list, and if the word has gender, or is singular/plural, make sure you use the article!
  • Create a visual thesaurus.
    Draw an image of a new vocabulary word
    Create a concept map of a word with synonyms, opposites, images, scenes, etc.
  • Look up new words
    and their definitions in the new language’s dictionary or online, not in language pairs (for example, French-English). Write out the definition.
    Add one synonym or antonym.
  • Memorizing:
    acronym, acrostic, rhymes, loci,
    keywords, image-naming, chaining 

Reading

  • Do not read word-by-word, or translate word-by-word.
    Prepare yourself for a reading:
    study its vocabulary first; review the advance questions.
    Then put aside everything and just read, even twice.
    Do not look up vocabulary while reading.
    Read a phrase or sentence as a “thought” to get its sense or meaning.
  • Do not write in your text book or reading.
    Separately develop a vocabulary list as above.
  • Go beyond your textbook!
    Children’s books are illustrated and easy to read!
    Websites are rich opportunities to explore your hobbies in other languages,
    and have common vocabulary that gives you a sense of what is written.
    (Google advance search will let you enter key words and choose a language for results!)
  • Read/sing song lyrics of the language!
  • As your skills advance, read novels,
    but read for the story, not vocabulary.
    Read a chapter, then if you see repetitive vocabulary, look it up and then read again.
    As you advance through the novel, you will forget about vocabulary for the most part.

Writing

  • Some languages have unfamiliar alphabets and ways of writing.
    Practice writing these alphabets to both learn correct orthography (correct writing), and vocabulary!
  • Develop writing assignments with the seven stages in your language
  • Write out sentences you have practiced orally.
    Carefully construct patterns and then write out the sentences with substitute words--multiple times. If you have spell check and the “autocorrect” grammar feature in your word processing, use it!
  • When you get corrections, re-write them.
    Correct what you got wrong, even repeating in order to embed it in your mind.

Grammar

  • Read a short clear easily understandable explanation of a grammar rule.
  • Find several examples of the rule
    Check whether you have mastered the examples
  • Create your own examples drawn from your daily life,
    or in conversations you could have with a friend, classmate, or even a family member.
    If you know how to categorize the grammar rule, search the Web for more examples in dialogues, essays, stories. Create variations or your own examples.

Technology

  • Create flash cards
    whether digital or on paper
  • Explore using your IPod, MP3, CD in the language
    in your car, and at moments when you are waiting or walking or biking, etc.
    Some studies have even showed results during sleep!
  • Check out iPhone apps!
  • Use the Internet; search for websites.
    Play games, read newspapers, look up your hobby, research for other subjects you are studying, etc.
  • Watch videos and movies in your new language.
  • Learn the words to popular songs and sing along!

Environment

  • Immersion!
    Think of creating an environment in your room where you can be in contact with your language.
  • Visit centers and organizations that cater to foreign nationals and immigrants
    International student centers, neighborhood and education centers, language and bi-lingual associations, national halls, consular offices, library, etc.
  • Study daily—develop a foreign language habit
    Think of studying as you would for a sport or music: a series of skills that need practice!
  • Don’t miss a class!
    And get to know at least one other student to study with.
  • Risk! Be fearless in making mistakes, and getting correction.
    Would an athlete object when his or her coach corrected certain moves?
    So also learning an instrument needs direction from a popular musician.
    This is the role of a teacher or native speaker!
  • Think of building your skill set
    Basics lead to more complicated variations:
    for example, use “old” vocabulary to practice new grammar
  • Study with a friend, in a group,
    involving yourself in speaking and listening. Play a game online or in the group in the language
  • Relax and enjoy yourself!
    Do not worry about what you cannot remember, or cannot yet understand, or cannot yet say. You are learning and improving. The language will gradually become clearer in your brain as new connections are made, but this will happen on a schedule that you cannot control. So sit back and enjoy. Just make sure you spend enough time with the language. That is the greatest guarantee of success.

Tests

  • Testing in language learning often expects you to write, speak, etc.
    Ask the teacher which skill (listening, speaking, writing, grammar, vocabulary, etc.) is tested! Prepare specifically for that skill.

Study abroad

  • One of the biggest mistakes students make in study abroad programs
    is to hang out with those from their school in the new country. Don’t.
    Get the most out of your trip by living with a family (home stay), asking for a dorm with local students, meeting students in the country, exploring (shopping!) by yourself or a companion who does not speak your language.
    But be safe: ask advice about where to go and what to do.

Resources:

Portions adapted from contributions by Mike Shelby.
Landsberger, Joe. (n.d.) Cross language resources including digital translators. in Study Guides and Strategies. retrieved November 4, 2009, from http://www.studygs.net/language.htm
See also:

Learning to learn | Succeeding in continuing education | Visual/spatial learning |
Learning as a student-athlete | Learning as an adult | Learning with ADHD |
Active learning | Action learning | Language learning strategies
Exploring your personal learning style | Learning folder