It has been proven - in countless research papers and by analysing the results of thousands of students – that the traditional memorization method called rote memorization, is not at all effective when learning any subject. The same applies to language learning.
We learn by incorporating small chunks of information and by association we connect different parts of what we learn to transform them in new concepts. It is how we solve the conundrums life throws at us.
To learn effectively we need to equalize two different approach of learning:
Focused and diffuse learning.
During focused learning, we intentionally direct our attention and analytical mind to the new concepts that we are internalising. It is a conscious act that we decide to pursue.
On the other hand, diffuse learning requires our passive attention, it is where the connections between chunks happen at a completely subconscious level.
So, during focused thinking you gather information and form new chunks. And during diffused thinking you connect the different chunks together. Barbara Oakley Ph.D. talks about this concept in her book ‘A mind for numbers’. She highlights that we fail to learn adequately when we miss alternating these two sides of learning. We often dismiss diffuse thinking because we find it irrelevant.
So, what is the solution?
To learn effectively there are a few things you should do.
Prioritise your time.
Create a routine
Try to study in the same place, at the same time, using the same tools every day so that these can work as a trigger to put you in the mood for serious study. Various writers swear by this technique to enhance their productivity.
Study every day
You don’t need to have long study periods, if you don’t, have the time, but do it every day even for 5 minutes. By doing so, you keep your momentum going, and you don’t need to waste time going back just to remind yourself where you’ve left off.
If you get into the habit of studying frequently, it becomes much easier to sit down and achieve something even when you don’t feel like it.
If you plan to study more than 30 minutes daily, get into the habit of taking breaks at regular intervals: take 5 minutes, grab a coffee, go for a short walk. Refuelling your energy should be an important part of your study routine if you want to keep your focus and learn effectively.
Reclaim your space
Find a space where you can focus and learn. Let people around you know that you want that time for yourself so that you can make the most of it for your language study. They will be respectful of your decision once they are aware of your intentions.
When you’re working on your language activity during the period you blocked off for this purpose, you should avoid interruptions at all cost. Switch off your phone to prevent the usual avalanche of notifications, no email, and preferably no internet. It would be better if you could work offline or do the necessary research on the net beforehand. At the beginning, plan small blocks of study time and increase it gradually.
Finish what you’ve started
Try always to finish what you’ve started to study. For example, if you planned to write a paragraph in your target language to practice the new vocabulary you learned on the previous session, once started, don’t stop until it’s over. Research has shown that the unfinished task could linger in your mind affecting your performance later when you decide to do another activity, this is called “attentional residue”.
In language learning this goal is to understand the meaning of a particular text and to build your vocabulary pool to become fluent at some point.
1- As with Listening Strategies, the first thing is to choose the text to be read and start practicing these pre-reading strategies. They will allow you to get a sense of what the text is about, and how it is organised.
* Pay attention to where this text is extracted from: a book? a newspaper? a magazine?
* See what you can learn from the headlines, the introduction.
* Skim through the content. This will help you have an idea of the background of the story, and have a feel of the phrases, sentences and words used.
* Take notes of any unfamiliar words you find.
* Place the text in its historical and cultural context. The expressions will be different when reading a contemporary text from some extract in a classical genre for example.
2- While you are reading:
* Highlight unfamiliar words. Don't look them up just yet. Use the context to help you understand the content. This is a strategy use a lot by effective language learners and you should train yourself at becoming excellent at using contextual clues.
* Write down questions when reading the text for the first time. Try do this in your own words.
3- After reading for the first time:
* Look for the words in a dictionary in your target language (not a bilingual one). Write the definitions down in your target language or use drawings or pictures to identify them. The aim is to help you think in your new language.
* You've already identified the main ideas, now write them down. Don't copy the text.
* Re-read the text, this time aloud. You should have a better understanding of it.
If you want to make the most of your reading, try to complement it.
* upload your new vocabulary in your vocab notebook or App and learn it. Spaced - repetition is the best at making sure these become part of your long-term memory.
Work on the hardest and most confusing parts first, go back to your notes. Revise the difficult concepts.
Think on paper
Keep a journal
“There is magic between the hand and the brain”.
Write down every commitment you make to yourself – like study 10 phrases a day – so that it becomes impossible to forget or ignore. This will give you peace of mind and free your energy to learn.
Note-taking in language studies, trains the learner to focusing on the main ideas and key words that will help develop short-term and long-term memory. Handwriting is slower allowing for more mental processing of the information as well as a better ability to summarise the content. The .The Cornell note taking has proven effective in language learning.
Disengage your attention
You can listen to the radio, or a podcast episode or a film in the foreign language you’re studying as an active listening activity or let them be a background noise. They will serve as a way of immersing yourself in the language and the culture, you will get familiar with the sounds and will speed up the process of storing the words you’ve learned. However, don’t be fooled, you will still need a language course or a tutor to help you master this language.
Take passive listening as a means of relaxation after your language study, as you will not need to pay full attention and it will still be helpful.
Keep information fresh
Test yourself frequently this will help you assess how much of the information stored you recall. The best way is by using spaced repetition.
The spaced-repetition method is about reinforcing a bit of information in your mind just when you are about to forget it. People who use distributed practice remember twice as many words in the long term as those who don’t.
The time you leave between the recall sessions is important. It has been proven that the longer gaps are more effective than the shorter gaps if you want to commit the information to your long-term memory.
A simple way to apply this technique is by using flashcards.
You may make your own flashcards. The use of flashcards is extremely popular. They help you memorise quicker and more effectively than by making a list.
Use pocket cards that will be easier to carry with you for revision and study time on the go. On one side write the foreign word and on the other side the definition of the word or its translation. Also write the original sentence from which you have found the new word or make your own. Whenever you come across the new word in other writings or conversations, write the full expression down. If your aim is to grow your vocabulary fast, make a flashcard for similar words (synonyms) and opposite words(antonyms). You can also make digital flashcards and keep expanding your vocabulary pool by adding more with each new word. Try Anki and Memrise. These Spaced-repetition software can be useful because it takes the guessing game out of your hands. It tells you which words need checking and when it is the most effective time to review them. You can make the flashcards using your own words and examples.
I could carry on with more tips, but This article would be far too long. But I am certain that if you apply these you will be well on your way of achieving your language learning goals.
What other learning tips do you use? Feel free to share in the comments.