Five tips for learning a language

Whether you're moving to a new country or just want a new challenge, learning a language is easy to do nowadays with all the resources available. Here are our top five tips to give you an extra boost!
learning Chinese on the Trinity CertTESOL

Little and often

Spaced repetition is what will really help the new language stick in your mind. It’s essential that you review, reuse and recycle new lexis and grammar structures to cement them into your working memory. There’s no definite number of times that you need to hear or use a word to help you remember it: for some people, hearing a word once will make it stick in their brains, particularly if they have a personal attachment to it.

As a teacher, it’s important that you provide your students will the opportunity to reuse language too. This can come in revision activities at the start or end of each lesson, such as a vocabulary box or a Q&A task with a particualr grammar point.

Use the language

Find every opportunity you can to do this. If you’re living in the coountry where you’re learning the language, this will inevitably be easier as there are opportunities to talk to people at the bus stop or in the supermarket. However, you can just as easily have a conversation with yourself or find other ways to practise even the most basic bits of language.

Daniel Barber, one of the founders of Active Language, said he used to walk along the street reading out number plates in the early days on learning a new language as simple practice of letters and numbers.

Learn from your mistakes

As teachers of the Communicative Approach, we know mistakes are bound to happen during the learning process and are a natural step as you become more adventurous and confident with the language.

One thing to do though is keep an eye on the mistakes you’re making and ensure they don’t become fossilized. This is particularly important at a lower level as when you become a more proficient language user, these fossilised errors can often be mistaken for slips and can easily go uncorrected.

Use the resources available

There are so many online tools nowadays to help you learn a language, from sites like Babbel and Duolingo to the wonderfully-titled Learn a Language.

Hopefully, the site you find will be fairly intuitive and easy-to-use and that’s something to bear in mind when you introduce your own students to online resources. Can they easily navigate around the page? Does it require them to sign up? It’s always worth showcasing the resource in class first so your students can access the content more easily at home.

Enjoy yourself

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of doing anything is motivation. Why are you learning a new language? Do you have an objective in mind? For example, to reach A2 by the end of the year or to earn enough conversational Greek in time for your summer holiday to Lefkada? Whatever your plan, it’s a good idea to set yourself goals.

And this is also true as a teacher when doing a needs analysis with a new group of students. It’s easy for us to focus on the linguistic aspect of their language learning, but we should also consider their reasons for learning as this can also guide us to think about the content of our lessons. Are they learning for work or pleasure? Even if it’s for work, is the motivation to learn coming from themselves or from an outside pressure?

Finally, a reminder that an important part of the Trinity CertTESOL course is the Unknown Language Journal. For this, you’ll take four hour-long lessons in a foreign language, enabling you to reflect on language learning from both the student and teacher’s perspectives.

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