Studying a Foreign Language
Learning another language is not
easy, but most people can learn a second language IF they are willing to
put in the necessary time. Here are some practical suggestions for
studying effectively, overcoming anxiety, and learning the grammar and
skills necessary for success in foreign language classes.
A foreign language course is different from any other course
you take. Language learning is cumulative: you cannot put it off until
the weekend. Study 1 or 2 hours for every class hour if you want an A
YOUR STUDY TIME in 15- to 30-minute periods throughout the
day. Focus on a different task each time: vocabulary now, grammar
next, etc. Get an overview during the first half hour: spend 10
minutes reviewing dialog, 10 minutes learning new vocabulary, 10
minutes learning new grammar...so you'll at least have looked at it
all. Approximately 80% of your study time should be spent in
recitation or practice, including practice in the language lab.
- ATTEND AND
PARTICIPATE IN EVERY CLASS--even if you are not well
prepared. Class time is your best opportunity to practice. Learn the
grammar and vocabulary outside of class in order to make the most of
class time. Spend a few minutes "warming up" before each
class by speaking or reading the language.
YOURSELF COMFORTABLE IN THE CLASSROOM. Get to know your
classmates, so you will feel you are among friends. Visit your
instructor during office hours to get acquainted: explain your goals
and fears about the course to your instructor.
GRAMMAR IF YOU DON'T ALREADY KNOW IT. Grammar is the
skeleton of a language, its basic structure: you must learn it. Review
a simplified English grammar text. Compare new grammatical structures
in your foreign language to their English equivalents.
by doing what you will have to do on the test. If the test
will require you to write, then study by writing--including spelling
and accents. If you will be asked to listen, then practice listening.
Ask for practice questions; make up your own test questions. Invent
variations on patterns and forms. Over-learn: study beyond the point
of recognition to mastery.
- DEVELOP A
GOOD ATTITUDE. Have a clear personal reason for taking the
class. Set personal goals for what you want to learn. Leave
perfectionism at the door; give yourself permission to make mistakes
and learn from them.
- GET HELP
IF YOU NEED IT. Talk with your teacher. Form study groups
among class members. Use tutoring services. Don't wait!
a foreign language are analytical skills. You may be good at these if you
are a logical person who attends to detail. Train yourself through
practice to notice and remember details such as accents and gender
- First, read the vocabulary list
for the assignment. Next, read the questions about the reading. Then
read all the way through a new passage two or three times, guessing at
meaning from context. Avoid word-by-word translation. It is a waste of
- Isolate new vocabulary and study
it separately. DON'T write between the lines! Make flash cards. Carry
them with you and recite them several times during the day at odd
moments. Overlearn them until they are automatic.
- Isolate new grammatical forms and
study them separately. Write the pattern on a flash card and memorize
it. Write out and label a model sentence. When you encounter the form
while reading, pause and recite the pattern to recognize the form.
- Pay attention to detail: notice
accents, order of letters, etc. Compare letter-by-letter different
forms (singular, plural, gender, etc.). Write out conjugations of
verbs, declensions of pro-nouns, etc., and check your endings.
Memorize irregular verbs.
- To master spelling, have a friend
dictate 10 words to you. Write them out and immediately have your
friend spell them correctly aloud while you look carefully and point
at each letter. Repeat until you get all the words right.
- Write (in your own simple foreign
vocabulary words) a story you have just read.
SPEAKING are performance skills. You may do well at these if
you are naturally outgoing. Students in foreign language classes often
have difficulty hearing and speaking because they are anxious about making
mistakes. It's OK to make mistakes! Have fun trying to speak!
- Frequent the language lab. Read
the exercises in your book first; then listen and read together; then
listen without looking at the print. Say aloud/write what you hear.
- Participate silently in class
when others are called on to speak. Focus on the task; don't worry
about how you'll do.
- If you feel nervous, relax
yourself physically by taking a couple of slow, deep breaths. When
called on, pause, relax, and give yourself time to respond.
- Listen while a friend dictates to
you and write what you hear. Check for accuracy.
- Practice: join language clubs,
watch foreign TV, listen to foreign radio.
- Study out loud! Mimic the sounds
of the language. Don't mumble. Although most people feel embarrassed
making strange sounds, the language will soon feel more familiar to
- When called on in class, say
something, even it it's wrong: you'll learn from it. If you need a
moment to think, repeat the question. If you don't know the answer,
say in your foreign language, "I don't know" or
- Practice with a foreign student
who wants your help to learn English or with another class member.