Tuesday, December 29, 2009

10 Tips for language learning success

  • Article from vistawide.com with some guidelines for students of foreign languages.
If you're a first-time language learner, you know that emotional ups and downs come with the territory. When you understand a concept or begin to comprehend the language, you may experience feelings of exhilaration. However, these are often followed by moments of frustration and discouragement, during which you might feel as if you will never master the concepts and attain the ability to understand and communicate effectively. Below are some time-tested, research-verified approaches that will help mitigate potential frustration and will increase your ability to succeed in language learning.

1. Set realistic expectations

It is natural to feel uncomfortable in a language class. You're used to being in classes where the mode of communication -- the language of instruction -- is a given.

In a language course, however, it is the mode of communication itself that is the focus of instruction. For this reason, a language course is different than most other courses you will ever take. Not understanding and making mistakes -- things that are negative learning indicators in other courses -- are a very natural part of the language learning process. Accept the fact that you will not understand everything. In fact, at the very beginning, you will not understand much at all.

Remember that during the initial period of adaptation your ear and your mind are adjusting to the sounds and the rhythm of the language. Though you will not understand all of what is being said, you will be amazed at your increasing ability to make sense of the language. Remember that the only way to learn the language is through practice, practice, and more practice; in the course of practicing you will make many errors … and you will learn from them.

2. Break study time into smaller chunks

Research shows that language students learn more effectively and retain more when they study frequently and for shorter periods of time than if they study infrequently for extended periods of time. Try to study each day, and whenever possible, several times a day. This means, for instance, doing a few homework exercises each day rather than doing all homework assignments the night before they are due.

In addition, there are many otherwise mentally "idle" moments during the day when you can work in some studying. For example, you can review vocabulary while eating breakfast, recite the alphabet while showering, count your steps as you walk between classes, name as many object as you can in the target language on your to way school, take your vocabulary flash cards with you on a road trip.

There are many moments during the day when you can squeeze in a few minutes of practice time. Through the repetition of material, it will be come increasingly familiar, until it eventually becomes an automatic part of your language repertoire.

3. Learn vocabulary effectively

Vocabulary is the most essential element of communication. The more words you know, the more you can say and understand.

The absolute best way to learn vocabulary is through the use of flash cards that you make yourself. Purchase a set of 3 x 5 index cards and cut them in half. (This makes them small enough to carry everywhere.) Write a vocabulary word on the front and its English definition on the back. As you learn more information about each word (e.g. plural forms of nouns, principle parts of verbs), you can add these to the cards.

There are many ways you can use flash cards as a learning tool. To help you learn and remember noun genders, for example, you can color code the nouns by gender, either by using colored cards or colored ink. When studying, organize words in meaningful groups (e.g., by noun gender, in thematic categories, regular verbs vs. irregular verbs). Shuffle the cards or groups, so that you use the stack(s) in a different order each time. Use the cards in both directions: first look at the foreign language words and try to recall the English definition. Then shuffle and look at the English definitions and attempt to remember the foreign language words. Flash cards offer many possibilities. Take advantage!

4. Practice language actively

Whenever possible, speak the language aloud rather than reciting it silently to yourself. Say vocabulary words out loud, read passages in the text aloud, do pronunciation activities orally and not just mentally. Write out the answers to activities rather than gliding through them in your mind. Read aloud entire sentences in an activity rather than just reading a fill-in response. Transferring language from your mind to your mouth is a skill that requires a great deal of practice.

5. Do homework conscientiously

In the course of a conversation, it is not practical to look up noun genders or fret over verb tenses. But homework offers you a golden opportunity to practice your language skills in a deliberate manner.

When doing your homework, you have the luxury of time. Look up words and genders you don't know. Refer to charts and other resources available to you. This will reinforce the material and eventually it will become automatic. If you never look things up or simply guess, you will be strongly reinforcing errors and you will never learn proper forms and words. Read instructor feedback on homework and ask clarifying questions when necessary. Maximize the utility of your homework to your learning.

6. Form study groups

Meet regularly with classmates to work together on homework assignments, to learn vocabulary, to study for tests, or just to practice speaking the language. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to language learning. Learning with others helps decrease knowledge gaps and gives you opportunities to actively discuss concepts and material covered in class, thereby increasing the chances that you will remember it. You will benefit from the knowledge and abilities of your classmates, as they will from yours.

7. Identify your learning style

Each person has his/her own learning style and everyone learns at a different pace. Try not to get frustrated if someone else in class seems to be progressing more quickly than you. You might find that you have a knack for grammar but have difficulty with speaking. Or you may find that you understand things perfectly in class, but when it comes to the homework assignments, you feel lost. Strive to identify your own personal strengths and let these help you in your learning process. If you are a visual learner, for example, write things down and try to associate words with images. At the same time, strive to identify your own personal learning barriers and make efforts to overcome them. For example, if you tend to be quiet in classes and often refrain from participating, force yourself to sit at the front of the classroom.

8. Maximize your language exposure

If your ultimate goal is language fluency, as it is for many students learning a language, then it is important to know that you will become more fluent more quickly if you increase the amount of contact you have with the language. You can start by simply practicing the language with a classmate outside of class. You can befriend native speakers in your community or attend a local foreign language conversation hour, if one exists. Rent a movie in the target language, or listen to authentic audio or video online. (Many foreign television and radio stations have streaming or archived audio and video programs).

Remember that you won't be able to understand everything, and you might not understand much at all at first. Nonetheless, these experiences will make you increasingly familiar with the sounds, rhythm, and intonation of the language. Increased exposure to and active practice with the language will help you develop skills more quickly.

9. Spend time on task

Use the time you have in class each week to work on your language skills. This means not only attending and paying attention in class. If you finish a partner activity early, use the time to try conversing with your partner in the target language on a related topic. Or work on your written homework. Or study the weekly vocabulary. If you finish a lab activity early, attempt trying some supplemental activities, work on the week's written homework, or explore some cultural sites. If you are in your language class, you should be doing something language-related. Make the most of the time you have to maximize your learning.

10. Communicate with your instructor

Take responsibility for your learning. Communicate with your instructor any problems that may be interfering with your learning or any specific difficulties that you are having with the material. Seek help immediately when you need it. You might be surprised how easily such difficulties can be resolved. Also, be proactive about making up missed work. Not only your grade, but also your success at learning depend on it.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The advantages of learning Spanish as a second language

  • An interesting article about the importance of learning Spanish. Source: literacynews.com
Without question, if you’re interested in learning a second language, Spanish is one of your best options. Whether you’re looking to meet high school language proficiency requirements or simply want to round out your education, Spanish is one of the most useful languages you can learn. You may even find that learning Spanish will help you in other areas of your education.

Similarity to Other Languages

Spanish is one of several European languages based on Latin – called the Romance languages. As a result, when you learn Spanish, you’ll have a beginner’s key to a number of other languages, including French and Italian. Because many words in Spanish are based on Latin roots, you may find that learning Spanish will help you understand medical and scientific terms.

In fact, many people consider Spanish the easiest of the Romance languages because it lacks the complex pronunciations found in French, while still retaining a structure and root word usage that’s compatible with other languages. You’ll also find that the Spanish language has a natural rhythm that makes it comfortable to speak and write. In some cases, you may even find that Spanish is easier to learn than your native language!

Spoken All Over the World

Historically speaking, conquerors and missionaries from Spain and Portugal were primarily responsible for the spread of the Spanish language throughout the American continents. Today, Spanish is spoken all over Europe, as well as in Mexico and many countries in South America. That said, it’s important to realize that people in specific geographic regions speak in dialects that may be very different from what you initially learned. However, the basic elements of European dialects are similar enough that you’ll be able to interpret these different patterns with ease.

Easy and Convenient to Learn

Considering that Spanish is spoken by over 300 million people around the world, it should come as no surprise that locating classes and tutorials is fairly easy. If you’re a high school student, you probably have the option to elect Spanish studies for free. Many colleges also offer full credit classes for students, as well as non-credit versions for community members. There are also hundreds of tapes, videos, books, and dictionaries designed to help you learn Spanish on your own. You can also take advantage of the internet to find websites, chat rooms, and other resources that are developed exclusively in Spanish.

When you’re thinking about learning a second language, it’s important to consider the benefits of all your different options. Unfortunately, if you choose a less commonly known language like Latin, you won’t have many opportunities to practice with others or to directly use your knowledge. Learning Spanish will give you this kind of linguistic grounding. At the same time, you’ll gain the ability to converse with millions of people that may or may not speak your native language. In addition, if you don’t already speak English or another Romance language, Spanish offers you a key foundation to learning them.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Russian For Everyone

Developed by Dr. Julia Rochtchina as a self study guide for elementary level learners of Russian and for intermediate level students who wish to review basic grammar and vocabulary.

This is a grammar course for beginners and intermediate students of Russian as a foreign language. The site is quite well structure and presents several grammar topics. Each topic with its explanations, quizes, phrasebooks and audio files. You can also test yourself with a set of the Russian language games.

You can find specially usefull the Summary Tables, as you can print them out for your study. Have a look, for instance, of the "Summary of Case Uses" (Basic uses of Nominative, Prepositional, Accusative, Genitive, Dative, Instrumental cases), or "Verb Endings" (Verb Endings: First and Second conjugation. Regular Forms).

In addition, there are everyday a couple of new Words of the day you can listen and learn.

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