Language Study Tip: Daily Practice

The following piece originally appeared on Language for You (now closed) on this date under a slightly different title.

When learning a foreign language, it is important to practice daily or even more frequently than that. Many readers will say, “But I don’t have time for that!” Sure you do! Really. You just have to let go of the habit of doing a lot of homework and studying all in one long weekly session. Do many short sessions instead. If you only have two hours a week to devote to learning a new language, you could break part of that time up into shorter chunks. You could, for example, take one hour for a long study session. And then you could divide the other hour into four 15-minute sessions. That would give you a total of five sessions in a week. Add to that the class you are probably taking, and you are up to six sessions per week. That will give you the repetition you need to make new words, grammar, and habits of thought sink in. This little amount of time is not ideal. More studying is desirable, but it will bring you a better return on your investment than one long session per week.

Of course, once you get into the habit of these short study sessions, you will find that you can schedule more. What about the five or ten minutes you spend waiting for a bus or train? What about the time you spend on the train? What about when you’re walking? You can’t look at your books then, but you could look at flash cards with idioms, confusing words, or irregular verbs. You could also simply try thinking in the language you are learning. In this way, the two hours you spend learning the language will grow substantially without actually costing you extra time. And because you are studying frequently and regularly, your brain and mouth and ears will grow accustomed to the language more quickly.

And you know what? It can be fun. It takes your mind off your daily troubles and lets you accomplish something in a short period of time. Pretty soon you will notice that you can feel good about this activity, which gives you one more reason to feel good about yourself. These positive feelings will spark you to keep up and even expand this new study habit.

Online Forums: Blackboard and Wikispaces

My Western Civ courses last winter and spring had some mandatory discussion components. Students had to visit the Holocaust Museum and talk about their experience online. I had them do the same with two old movies as well. (They chose from a list I had given them.) Both assignments went pretty well, except for a couple students who thought they only needed to copy and paste someone’s words from an online movie review. The other downside to the assignment was assessment. Blackboard gives precise statistics for each user, so it is possible to combine one’s impression of the students’ quality of effort with numbers. Wikispaces, which I like, did not offer these statistics. (It might for its Private Label version, but my school doesn’t have that. I had to set up my own Wikispaces account.)

What was really interesting about the Wikispaces experience, however, was that students started using the discussion feature in other parts of the course. It wasn’t mandatory, though I had told students I’d keep it in mind when doing their class participation grade. I’ve said the same thing to classes where I have used Blackboard, but without such positive results. The difference was related both to Wikispaces and the number of students involved.
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