I have been teaching quite a few students over the summer and was interested to see how they each approached the process of language learning. All of them worked hard and made progress and were delightful to teach and work with but analysing their preparedness and study methods gave me some insights into what sort of things seem to work well.
As teachers and learners we know that different people have different preferences and styles when it comes to studying. I see, as a teacher, where I need to adapt my choice of material or style to suit different students. Things which work fantastically well with one student might fall completely flat with another. We read much about learning styles and it is true that we learn differently but I feel it is also true that not all learning is necessarily fun and exciting and it is important to take the rough with the smooth. In terms of language in particular, a certain amount has to be repetitive and recycling, revisiting is very important. Regular practice is also important. Some tried and tested methods do work and it is a case of finding the most suitable way of utilising these. Whether pen and paper, iPhone or laptop is our preferred tool is unimportant as long as students get the results!
Some students are methodical and very organised. They bring a book, stationery, dictionary etc with the to the lessons and they organise their work. Some arrange their book/folder according to the different topics (grammar, reading, vocabulary etc..) and sometimes even colour-code everything for ease of revision. They review the day’s work and come to the next lesson prepared with questions.
Others prefer a more ‘learn by osmosis’ approach they like to absorb the language by being immersed in it through the lesson. They don’t record a great deal (perhaps anything they haven’t heard before) and react in a more emotional way with the language. They may not be so systematic in their learning but they like to extend their exposure to language and will be likely to watch TV or read a newspaper or magazine often bringing elements of this experience to the lesson.
Many students have a half and half approach. The dangers of being only type one is that you may be restricting yourself to a narrow range of language and those taking the second path may be exposed to too much for it to be absorbed. However all approaches are legitimate and in the end it is a matter of ‘horses for courses’. However, whatever your learning style, I do think it is worth considering using some tried and tested methods to enhance your learning experience
So, from my ‘straw poll’ over this summer, I have extracted 10 things which I observed that I feel all language learners could use to improve their study
- Do make sure you have something to record new items of language (notebook, netbook etc)
- Don’t rely solely on your memory.
- Do make sure you have access to a dictionary (get one on your phone then you can access it wherever you are).
- Don’t miss the opportunity to pick up new words and check their meaning.
- Do go over the day’s lesson, make a note of anything you don’t understand ready to ask your teacher at the next lesson.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher to go over things or explain things again – it’s an opportunity to make sure everything is clear before moving on.
- Do watch TV in English if you have the chance. If you are in the UK it’s a good way to engage with the culture and make sure you are immersing yourself in the language – TV is an invaluable language resource.
- Don’t feel that you have to understand everything. Relax and enjoy the experience, if you can get a good overview of the conversation or TV programme that might be enough (then, as in No 6, ask your teacher the next lesson).
- Do write a learner diary – a few lines after each day’s experience will not only give you a lovely record of your course, but it is also an interesting and personal way to make a record of your learning. This can be useful for language recycling and sharing with teachers and/or classmates.
- Do enjoy your learning experience – something you enjoy and are absorbed in will be both successful and valuable.
Thank you to all my students this year who gave me the chance to observe their learning and the opportunity to pass some of their ideas on to you.
For more on learning strategies you might like to look at the following posts.