Best in class: 4 tips for learning a new language faster
Just taking some language classes isn’t enough to become fluent. Studying (and mastering!) a foreign language requires effort, persistence and patience. But by focusing your energies in a smart way and making a few changes in your habits, you can harness your class time to help you achieve fluency much faster.
Here are our tried and tested tips for boosting your learning in the classroom:
1. Use your vocabulary lists creatively
While absorbed in class, you might think you’ll never forget the new words you hear. Unfortunately they usually come in such quantities that it’s impossible to keep up by relying on memory alone. Enter writing. The act of writing something down solidifies learning in our minds, and keeping word lists is a fantastic way to practice this. But you know what’s even better? Using those lists!
To make your vocabulary list useful, try forming a habit of categorizing new words and linking them to their meanings; a practice which gives your brain a reason to process each one. To start, use one of these “better list keeping” techniques – or combine them all!
Divide your page into three columns, representing: the word, its part of speech (whether it’s a noun, verb, preposition, etc), and definition. As you hear new words, fill in your list. For example: “surgeon,” “noun,” “a doctor who performs operations.” Cover columns when revising to quiz yourself.
Color-code new words according to their use, for example: their part of speech, theme (travel, work, food), or linguistic use (slang term, formal/informal speech). The use of color will let you find related words quickly and help you self-test.
Boost your memory by including an example of the word in context. Did your teacher use it in a sentence or draw a memory-jogging picture on the board? If so, copy it down. The use of the world in context will limit its ability to fly straight out of your mind after class.
2. Avoid your native buddies
While you might have signed up to class with a friend or made great mates with someone from your country, if you want to learn you need to resist the temptation to pair with them in class. Why? When working with someone who speaks your mother tongue, you won’t challenge yourself, and in a difficult situation you’ll just be tempted to revert to your own language. On the other hand, being brave and reaching out to someone new and different – with whom you can’t verbally cheat! – forces you to work harder to understand and be understood in your new language. And really, isn’t that why you’re in class in the first place?
3. Talk, talk, talk
Now, we’re not saying that you should be that student, the one who interrupts, chats non-stop, and takes over the lesson. They aren’t being generous with their classmates’ time. However, if you refuse to interact you’re not doing your learning any favors either. Remember, your teacher is there to help you: if you have questions, doubts, or queries – speak up! Articulating your problem out loud (especially in a foreign language) is excellent speaking practice in itself and often helps you see a solution before it’s given to you. When learning a new language, we don’t improve by stewing in our doubts, but by resolving them. And who knows? Perhaps someone else in the class has the same question and will benefit from the teacher’s answer as well!
4. Be there, consistently
You know the scenario. You sign up for Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish, or French classes excited as a kid on day one of the summer holidays. The first couple of classes go great – but then “life” happens. Work gets tough. Friends come to visit. You accidentally sleep through your alarm. And in the end, your shiny new goal to learn a new language gets dusty. Too many students start out eager to learn and then drop off the face of the earth after a week of classes. The thing is, while no one thinks it will be them, the majority of students won’t make it to the end of long-term study. Don’t let this be you! How do you motivate yourself to attend class consistently? Try:
Reminding yourself of why you’ve chosen to study. Stick inspiring quotes to your computer or mirror, talk about your goals to friends and family, or picture yourself – and how happy you’ll be – once you achieve your goal.
Soaking yourself in the culture of your chosen language. Eat its food, watch movies, read about the country/countries where it’s spoken, and seek out news articles relating to current affairs happening there.
Booking a flight. By doing this, you’ll have made a commitment to travel and will need to feel as confident in your chosen language as possible!