How to Study a New Language

“Repeat after me...”
Repeat every word or phrase we learn as many times as you are able.  Out loud.  Repetition practice can be verbal (say them), auditory (listen to them), read (and reread them) or written (by hand preferably).

You have 5 senses.  Use them.
You will better retain new vocabulary if you say the phrases out loud as you write or read them. Cut out pictures.  Listen to recordings.  Make, buy, eat foods you are studying.

Make it yours
When learning new vocabulary, do so in context.  Write and memorize sentences using the new vocabulary that are true to your life.  If you are learning the word for “beef”, but you are vegetarian, learn the phrase “I don’t eat beef”.  In that way you learn the new word and you also practice negation and a verb you learned earlier, and you are more likely to remember it because it’s true to your life.

Make Mistakes!
It’s natural to be nervous or hesitant in a language class.  You don't want to look foolish.  It feels awkward to be limited to “Hi.  My name is Johnny.  I am happy” for a week.  You need to make errors and you will if you participate.  Your fellow students make numerous mistakes as well, you just may not be able to recognize it and it seems like everyone else is able to comfortably jabber away.  They aren’t.  You are all beginners and it’s OK, and normal, to make mistakes.

Teach yourself to hear
In your native language, you don't have to listen very well. You only truly hear some of the words and sounds being said and your brain fills in the rest. Isn’t that great?  You can't do this when you are first learning a language. Not so great.  You have to train yourself to listen carefully in order to hear each sound.  Listening to various types of audio can really help. It can take awhile to become accustomed to a native speaker's speech patterns, so don't become frustrated. Start listening in small amounts and build up more time as you go.  Listening to music is great well, as long as wisely chosen.  Ask your instructor for recommendation appropriate to your level.  It’s especially helpful that much of it rhymes and is easier to understand.

Intentional study
How do you learn best?  If you don’t know, find out and develop study methods to match. Some benefit from flash cards, others from “audio flashcards” that they record for themselves, others might like to create a computer “presentation” with pictures of the vocabulary items with the word underneath. Also, find a fellow student with whom you can meet to study and practice the new material.

Do not translate
Avoid always trying to translate what you see or hear into your native language.  It won’t help you in the long run and will cause more frustration than anything.  Word-for-word translation will result in an unintelligible mess. 

Study Frequently, not necessarily a lot
Study often for briefer periods.  Studying 30 minutes a day is better than 4 hours on Thursday night. You cannot “cram” for a foreign language.  Did your 5-year old little brother cram the week before kindergarten?  Think of learning a foreign language as learning a new sport or other physical activity such a s dance.  If you’ve never danced before, can you suddenly be on tour with Usher after cramming for a few days?  Not likely.

Get help
Your instructor has office hours.  Use them.  Prepare specific questions about sticky points and bring them.  Come in to practice the language for a few minutes. The College has tutors available as well.  Use them wisely: prepare specific questions and material to practice. 

Don’t stop
If you take a semester off, you will forget more than you thought you had learned before you get back to it.  If you must take a break for some reason, ask your instructor for suggestions to keep the language fresh in your head, but if at all possible, don’t stop.

Summer Courses
You can either take the next course in sequence or a conversation course in the summer.  Summer courses may have lower enrollments as well, meaning extra attention, but they are also quite intensive.  You need to have more hours to devote on a daily basis than for a traditional semester course.  Ask your instructor or an advisor if summer is a good option.

Get Involved
Depending on your language, you can join the Spanish Club or the French club.  You could form a new club (“Friends of Chinese Cinema”),  Ask your instructor about other ways to get involved around town.