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!
All the best,