Language Learning Techniques

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to open.”
by ~Anais Nin~

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Will the language learning techniques you use effect your language learning?

The language learning techniques you use to learn a foreign language will determine your chances of success. Many language learners work hard at learning a language but they don’t spend enough time making sure that the methods they are using will actually work. Don’t fall into the trap of believing everything that you were told. 

By having a cold hard look at the results you are getting in your language learning you will see whether the language learning strategies you are using actually work for YOU!  It is no good just to keep on doing the same thing, if you are not getting the results you want.  As I can assure you, if you keep on doing the same thing, your results will not change from what you are already getting. 

Language Learning Technique 1

One common mistake made these days is to consult the bilingual dictionary for any word that causes some concern.  This method, whilst fast and effective in getting the meaning of the troubling word, will not, in the vast majority of cases, help you to remember the word nor use it in your speech.  Most language learners I have come across use this method extensively yet at the same time they complain about having a poor memory for vocabulary and having a narrow vocabulary range.  Translation is a very poor method to learn a language as the two languages sit in different parts of the brain.  Then of course they don’t establish the necessary links in the brain that are needed for us to recall and use new words, expressions, etc in the target language.

By changing this one technique to using a monolingual dictionary ( except in emergencies) you can in the long term, have a huge difference in how quick and adept you are in taking on the new language.  By staying with the target language you are forcing your brain to stay in L2.  You are training your brain to operate in that mode, all the time establishing the necessary links required for ease of use.  It is well accepted that you need more links in your brain about a certain event etc if you are to remember it easily.

Whilst this may seem like a slow process to start off with, because you are not used to it and because it will require more work on your part, you are actually reprogramming your brain to always use the target language.  Alongside with this, I would suggest that initially once you understand the word then you need to write it down in sentence ( sometimes more) in the language you are learning in the language you are learning, like below.  The actual experience of formulating sentences will create further links.  The more evocative the sentence is in terms of your personal experience the better it is.  Why you may ask?  Again, you are linking the new language to your past experiences.  For example,

Floods happen when the water rises and covers what is not meant to be covered. My bathroom got flooded because I forgot to turn off the tap. The city got flooded after the heavy rains.”

This of course will require more work on your part, but the work itself will set up more and more links in your brain which will result in you being able to remember the word as well as when to use it.!  If you do this often enough you will automate this and eventually you won’t need to write it down at all, as your brain will automatically go through this process.  I will suggest here that many so called “talented” language learners do this unconsciously and automatically.

Language Learning Technique 2

Find the mistakes you make in using the language.  Most language learners who struggle with their learning struggle find this one of the hardest things to do. Whilst talented language learners do this effortlessly. So it makes sense then, that by learning how to find your mistakes you can work towards becoming a talented language learner.

Doing this in writing is much easier than in speaking of course as then you have the luxury of time to compare.  If that is all you can do,, do that.  Even in this you can make large improvements. In speaking, clearly this can be far more difficult.  However by putting in the time, you can become more aware of what you say.  One suggestion to get started is to focus on ONE element that you wish to improve. Pronunciation of one sound or word, the use of questions, negatives, the past etc etc.  Start listening to what you say and what others say. Compare! Then work out what you have to do to change what you say. Work on that one element until you have brought it into line with native like usage.

Then tackle another element.  Once you get the hang of it, you will be surprised how fast this process can work.

Language Learning Technique 3

This one may surprise you. I believe that this is one of the most important ones yet so few people do anything about it. Do you REALLY believe that you are talented enough to learn the language to a high level. If you don’t or you doubt it, you HAVE to do something about that. As long as that belief remains, no matter what you do you will be holding yourself back. Your belief will put a ceiling on what you can attain.

In all areas of human endeavour, the ones who became successful were the ones who believed they could.  So do what you have to to change that belief. There is  video clip on the home page on this site where I talk about language learning techniques from another perspective. Go ahead and watch it as it gives you some other ways of seeing the same problem. That is a good start.

The techniques you adopt will determine the chance of your success. I have mentioned only 3 here in this article, but there are are others you will find on this site about all manner of things, from improving your listening, to learning to trust yourself more, to focussing more on meaning. I could go on and on. 

I hope what I bring to your attention in these pages has got you thinking about your techniques and you will look further into what you do. If you start to tweak what you do, and employ practices that engage you more, you will be on the path to improvement.

  • Michael

    Would most foreign learners of English especially beginners prefer
    bilingual English learning courses to monolingual English courses?

    In my view it is easier for foreign learners, especially for absolute
    beginners to study English through their native language explanations of
    English pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary for easier, better and
    quicker understanding. Non-native teachers of EFL know that perfectly
    well.

    • The problem here Michael is that even though this method is popular, it leaves 2 huge questions unanswered:

      1) How do you go from intellectual understanding to a skill? The path is not an easy one and one, hence the massive drop out rates in language courses. I am not suggesting this is the only reason for it, but it is a key one. Confidence in usage comes from use not from understanding.
      2) How do you develop language learning skills that are independent of explanations? These skills must be developed by anyone who wishes to become proficient.

      How much better would be to start with an approach, from day 1, which calls on those language learning skills which we will keep using to the very end!