As I’m currently brushing up on my Spanish before heading to Colombia, I’m thinking a lot about the way that I learn languages in the hope that it will make me a better language teacher when I get there. People tend to be quite shocked when I tell them that it’s my fifth language (disclaimer: I definitely had a head-start growing up tri-lingual) But either way, as language learning has been a big part of my life, from studying French and modern Greek BA to teaching English as a foreign language in France and Italy, I thought I’d share some of my study hacks that have helped me over the years…
- The most important thing is to immerse yourself. I know not everyone is lucky enough to study or work abroad for a stint, but try and surround yourself as much as you can with your target language. When I was in uni my study breaks consisted of French movies and crappy Greek soaps, I listened to the radio and tried to pick out words I knew, watched cheesy youtube videos of pop songs with their lyrics and then looked up words I didn’t know. If you can learn to learn while you’re not officially studying you’ll progress so much quicker. And you no longer have to feel embarrassed about having Enrique Iglesias on repeat….
- Redecorate your house/room. Posters explaining the difference between ser/estar, post-its on random objects to remember their names, or just randomly placed words that you can’t quite get to stick. The Greek word for journalist is ingrained in my mind after seeing it written on my friend’s fridge in second year.
- Don’t rely on one method/source. Things like Duolingo are great, but even if you meet your daily targets you will not learn to speak a language this way. Same goes for any course book/ grammar guide/online videos. Instead, use a combination of methods and different websites so that you don’t get stuck in a rut. Sign up for blogs and online dictionaries that send you a word a day and take online quizzes to keep you on your toes.
- I’m sure I’m not the only one who studied French at GCSE and then realised that no one actually says ‘comme si comme ca’ irl. Read newspapers, blogs or whatever you can get your hands on so that you learn the real language that people actually use.
- Better still, find a native speaker to practise with. Most unis have an Erasmus society where you can sign up to be a buddy to a foreign student, or even just a language exchange system. If you’re not a student (I feel your pain) then try leaving an advert on local noticeboards/facebook pages.
- Use a monolingual dictionary when looking up vocab, and accept that in most cases, there’s no such thing as a direct translation. I thought my teacher was crazy when she first suggested this, but it is one of the most helpful habits I’ve picked up. Although a bilingual dictionary may be quicker and easier to use, words have different nuances in different languages, and simply accepting that x=y is only going to set you back in the future, especially if you study translation. Learning the etymology of a word also helps me remember it, as it helps me make associations.
- Find out what works for you. For example I have to write things down several times to retain them. If I’m learning a new grammar rule I have to paraphrase it, write it down, possibly draw a diagram, and then colour code it. It’s all about finding ways to trick your mind into remembering things, draw pictures, make word associations… If you use the right techniques you should be able to visualise your notes when you’re trying to recall the information.
- Make lists. And more lists. Carry a small notebook around with you and make a note of words you don’t know. List new words you’ve learnt, or ones you had to look up whilst reading. Read over the list, and make a new list with the words you still don’t know. Then read over that list and make flashcards with the words you still don’t know. If there are some that you really struggle with then write them on post-its and stick them by your bed. You know it’s working when they start popping up in your dreams.
- Get organised. If your class notes are chaotic (mine always were) take the time to copy them out neatly, re-arranging them if necessary and dividing them into topics. I always have a file or a notebook with 4 sections: 1. Grammar rules 2. Verb tables 3. New words 4.Mistakes. I also re-arrange them as part of revision so that I’m studying subject areas rather than random vocab.
- Learn from your mistakes. It’s a language teacher’s cliché, but mistakes aren’t always a bad thing. Take snowboarding for example, a cautious border could make it straight down the mountain without falling over once, while his friend who is popping tricks off the side of the piste lands a 360 but is covered in bruises. Who is the best border? Ok we don’t know for sure, but we do know who made the most progress. I find that it helps to keep a list of the mistakes I’ve made, alongside their correction/ an explanation of how I went wrong. (We’re talking strictly language based btw, or I’d never leave the house) Read through them now and again, but make sure you memorise the correction and not the mistake itself!
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. While it’s definitely a good idea to set realistic targets, it can also be difficult to measure your progress. Don’t freak out and try and overload your brain as that can be counter-productive (been there!) Frustration and feeling like you’re not learning quickly enough are totally natural, but just take a step back and remember that this is supposed to be fun, and you’re probably taking in way more than you realise. And if that doesn’t work, just look at this lama!!!
Have I missed anything out? Please feel free to comment and share your study tips 🙂