3 Key Factors when Learning a Language

I’m currently learning a language using the Say Something In series. Apart from finding the series remarkably effective, what I’m particularly delighted by are the additional tips and tricks the course provides to help you become a better language learner.

Concept of six ability in human brain

The study of any subject, be it history, biology or a language, requires developing good study habits. This is something which is often overlooked in today’s education, as most schools and institutions have to focus on the transfer of knowledge and high-stakes assessment.

In most learning establishments, teaching is seen as a universal trait: what is good teaching for one subject is good for another. However, I think the approach to effective teaching should vary from subject to subject, particularly between diverse topics such as history, calculus and grammar.

To learn a foreign language you need effective teaching techniques as well as effective learning techniques. So what makes for good learning habits when studying a language? Keep reading to find out… Continue reading

5 Good Learning Habits in the Language Classroom

A while ago I wrote a post about 5 good teaching habits that all teachers should strive to get into if they want to be effective at what they do. Given that learning and teaching is a two-way street and it takes two to tango, I think it is now time to look at what makes for some good learning habits inside the language classroom from the learner’s perspective.

5 teaching habits INFOGRAPHIC

Each person has their own way of learning. This means that it is difficult to specify universal approaches which would work for everyone. The one-size-fits-all model simply doesn’t work in education, as it is a highly personalized sphere.

However, there are some behaviours which can generally help learners to develop a positive mindset and approach to the Learning Process. While each one might not work for everyone, they are generally good habits to develop in the classroom and the vast majority of learners will see benefits from them.

(1) ASK QUESTIONS

Learning is no mean feat. It would be an understatement to say that learning is not a spectator sport. This is particularly true for Language Learning which requires you to not only acquire new words and grammar but also to be able to apply this knowledge in rapid speech and quickly understand it when listening and reading.

The learning process is greatly enhanced when you are engaged in it. This means not just listening and doing your work but also questioning and querying the tasks you have been given by your teacher.

At any point in a given lesson, for sure you will have plenty of questions buzzing around your head about the topic of the lesson. Just put your hand up and ask. Get into the habit of asking and you will see that your understanding of the language will become deeper and deeper.

One of the great things about questions is that even if a question is initially fairly simple, it often leads to other related questions, which help open up the topic to discussion and thus deeper understanding.

(2) USE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO PRACTISE

While it might sound cheesy to say it, the old adage of practice makes perfect has never been truer, especially in the case of language learning.

As language is all about communication, becoming an effective communicator, be it in written or spoken form, requires you to be harness and develop that skill.

Effective communication doesn’t develop itself: it comes with plenty of regular practice. Starting and participating in conversations in a foreign language is not initially easy, but if you take every opportunity to practise, then this will become second nature to you.

Opportunities could mean going out and finding someone to practise with, such as in a tandem exchange, but they  can also mean simply making the most of the pair and group work activities your teacher sets you in class. The reason why teachers ask you to work in pairs is so that you have the opportunity to practise communicating at every stage of the lesson.

(3) FOCUS ON THE LESSON, NOT THE NOTES

Too many learners spend a huge portion of their time on writing out excellent notes which are both neatly legible and exhaustive of every word spoken in the lesson. However, this sort of level of note-taking requires a significant amount of energy and focus. In order to do this, you will have to sacrifice a huge part of your lesson time on this activity.

Don’t do this. Language learning is a neurological process requiring plenty of exposure and ample practice. What’s more, real-life communication isn’t conducted on the basis of well-stored notes and vocabulary banks: it’s all about spontaneous reactions and quick-thinking responses.

This means that you should put your efforts in lessons into making only the most essential notes and maximising as much time as possible to activities which help your brain to acquire the language you’re learning, which includes but is not limited to notes, exercises, asking questions and getting plenty of practice.

(4) HANDWRITTEN NOTES ONLY

Recall is a very important factor in learning something, as it’s all about your ability to bring to the front of your mind information and knowledge which is perhaps buried somewhere in the back. That is why revision sessions focus so carefully on how effectively and precisely you recall information from previous lessons.

However, unlike most things in education, recall is not always amplified by technology. In fact, as reported in Scientific America, learners who write notes out by hand outperform those who type their notes on computer, laptops and tablets by a significant margin in exams.

While notes are important, I would recommend trying to get into the habit of making only the most important notes during a lesson and then come back to those notes after the lesson has finished and see if you can use your memory to expand on them and develop them further. This will encourage recall, understanding and application of knowledge.

(5) REVISE, REVISE, REVISE

While a lesson can function as a stand-alone unit on a given topic, learning, recall and applying knowledge does not and cannot work in single unit isolation. Attending a lesson on the Present Perfect most certainly won’t mean you will be able to correctly and effectively both use and understand the Present Perfect tense after one lesson.

That is why it is so important to go back over lessons afterwards. I strongly recommend going over a lesson at least 24 hours after it finished, then once again in the week, and then again in the month.

 

Positive Reinforcement in Language Learning

The year 1967 saw the the USA and the USSR perform nuclear tests, the Beatles released Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, and L.G. Alexander published what is said to be the best-selling book in ELT First Things First.

Scott Thornbury mentions the book in his 2016 Plenary at IATEFL, saying it was so popular that you could even purchase a copy at kiosks! In the plenary, he also quotes the author saying “the student should be trained to learn by making as few mistakes as possible.” good-1122969_640

An idea born out of earlier methods, such as the Direct Method and Audiolingualism, the focus on accuracy over fluency was the pinnacle of the pre-communicative era in ELT. There was a general fear of encouraging mistakes by letting them slip, and ultimately allowing them to become fossilized.

Decades later, learners are now very much encouraged to prioritize fluency, to make mistakes and to learn from them. As a result, lessons nowadays often culminate in a Delayed Error Correction stage, where learners are given corrective feedback on the mistakes they made during the lesson.

However, has this shift in focus from accuracy to fluency been a wholly positive development in English Language Teaching, or have we created a new problem by resolving another? Keep reading to find out more… Continue reading

Using Trello for Language Learning

I’ve recently been working at a tech firm called Applingua where I’ve had the opportunity to experience what it’s like working in a business – a non education business that is. As part of this, I’ve had the opportunity to use several tools I had never used before. One of which was Trello: a note-taking tool to help organize yourself and projects, available as both a web-app and a native app.

Trello Do Doing DoneFrom what I understand, many startups and entrepreneurs use Trello for Project Management. Although there are many different ways it could be used for managing a project, examples of which you can find following this link, one of the most common I’ve come across is the Do-Doing-Done set up, as in the image to the right.

This approach is very simple but effective: you write in the Do list what you need to do, move it to the Doing list when it’s underway, and finally move it to the Done list when it’s complete. For short and quick tasks, you’ll probably just skip the Doing column. An example of this would be Send Mary a thank you e-mail.

The example of the Trello board in the image is from my personal board, containing the lists of things I’m currently working on: I call it my Task Board. I have other task boards for work: one for all the things I need to do concerning content curation, another for social media and marketing, and another for the projects I oversee.

Recently I was writing up some notes in my language notebook. It’s a traditional school-style notebook, which I have divided up into sections for the different languages I’m learning. As I was doing this, a question dawned on me: couldn’t Trello be used for Language LearningContinue reading

5 Good Teaching Habits

As teachers and learners, we all expect different things from learning and teaching. Some learners expect language-heavy courses, full of grammar and with lots of teacher explanation. Others anticipate a more social learning approach, where they play with the language and acquire it through practice, practice and practice. school-1223873

Whatever the style you take or whatever the style your learners expect you to take, there are some basic behaviours that all teachers should follow in the classroom. These go a long way to building an effective learning environment. Teachers come in all shapes and sizes and they vary greatly, but great teachers all share some common features i.e. the core basics of good teaching habits.

Whether you have been in teaching for five minutes or five years, reminding yourself of the core basics of good teaching is always a good refresher.

So, what are these top five teaching behaviours or habits? Keep reading to find out… Continue reading

Authentic Listening | 3 Ideas

Learning a foreign involves a lot: new vocabulary to learn, grammar to acquire and sounds to master. It isn’t a challenge for the light-hearted! This couldn’t be truer for English Language Learners. Not only do they have to deal with the Language Learning Process, as for any other language, but they also have to manage a language which differs greatly between its written and spoken forms.3261686821_2b0aced89c_o

As languages go, English is definitely not a phonetically written language. Other languages, such as Polish or German, largely spell the language as it sounds. Of course, there are sounds and special clusters of letters you have to learn, but they generally don’t change: you could say there are hard and fast spelling rules in those languages.

When it comes to English, however, there aren’t many hard and fast rules. Rough, through and though all contain the same -ough cluster, yet it is pronounced completely differently in each one.

This, of course, has a big effect on Listening Skills. Many courses, teachers and schools teach the language from the written word. Think of all the notes you get your learners to make in a single lesson – even in the very first lesson!

Listening is an important skill that needs to be practised not only regularly but authentically. So what can English Language Learners to work on their Listening Skills, even the beginners? Continue reading to find out more… Continue reading

Pre-Course Task

When you apply to do a Delta course, you are usually asked to complete a Pre-Course Task. For some training centres, this might form part of your application, for others it is more of a task to get you thinking before beginning the course. For some centres it will be used for both of the above. Very often its purpose is to function as a bridge between the application process and the start of the course.

The whole idea behind Delta is to re-evaluate your teaching and the principles behind it. As such, the Pre-Course Task usually gets you:

  • To think about how you understand what learning is and what it involves
  • To think about how you understand what teachingis and what it involves

More often than not, the above requires you to consider:

  • Activities you use in class and why you use them
  • Experience with various ELT methods
  • Reflection on your own language learning or learning in general
  • Second Language Acquisition theory

Further Reading

Follow this link for an example of a Pre-Course Task concerning Learning

Follow this link for an example of Pre-Course Task concerning Teaching