Top tips to boost your learning
It may not be what you want to hear, but fluency in a foreign language takes time and dedication; and even then it is difficult to achieve mother tongue fluency. It does of course also depend on your definition of fluency; perhaps spontaneous conversational exchanges are what you are aiming to achieve for example. You should certainly begin with a clear and realistic goal, according to the time frame you have and the amount of time per week you have to dedicate to your study.
Consider your journey with English throughout your lifetime; it takes several years through childhood to master pronunciation and expand your vocabulary - in fact, is there anyone who can confidently say they know all words in the English language? Then can we truly say we are fluent in our own language? Of course we can; so then perhaps it is our perception of fluency in another language which we need to alter. With any language you will constantly be learning; add to this the fact that the language will be evolving and reshaping itself constantly too, so it is impossible to know everything.
In a perfect world, we would have all the time and money we need to take as many lessons as we could possibly dream of; in reality, for most of us at least, it is just that - a dream. So what can you do to ensure faster language acquisition and better knowledge retention?
Here are my top tips for supporting your lesson time:
1. If you don't understand something, don't be afraid to stop your tutor and let them know that you haven't quite got it clear in your mind yet; they will be only too happy to run through it with you again, or to explain it a different way - after all, it is your lesson and their aim is to make sure you get what you need from them. If you still struggle with a particular concept, make sure you follow up with your own research at home, or it will only get harder when you try to build on this concept with new learning material in the next lesson.
2. Integrate language learning into your daily routine. There are a variety of ways in which you can do this:
a. Think in your chosen language. This sounds simple, but try to consider the vocabulary you have learnt at every opportunity. E.g. if you are having breakfast, try to recall the vocabulary for the breakfast items. This will work particularly well if you are learning with someone else.
b. Use language learning apps; if you have a phone or tablet which uses the Apple app store or Google Play store, you should be able to find a whole host of free apps; try something like Memrise if you are a visual or kinaesthetic learner. This is great for learning on the go, such as on the commute to work.
c. International websites. Find something you are interested in and look it up online. For example, I enjoy reading the political news in French, so I have Le Monde as a bookmark on my desktop, plus I also have the app on my phone which alerts me to any news headlines. Remember, you don't need to look up every word you don't know; the general rule is look it up only if it reoccurs more than once within the text you are reading. For Spanish, I enjoy the beautiful photography and quirky stories on the science based website Muy Interesante. This idea could take any form of course; if you're into music, translate the lyrics from songs - or if you're a film buff, select the subtitles option - or even better seek out some world cinema; I have plenty of recommendations for my students.
d. Take every opportunity to talk with native speakers - this can be invaluable for learning colloquialisms which may not necessarily be taught in your lessons!
e. Visit somewhere that your language is spoken; what could be better than putting your learning into practice in sunny Spain or using your French along the Cote D'Azur?! If you make mistakes, who cares?! It is all part of the learning process. These "field trips" will certainly give you the necessary experience to translate your classroom knowledge into real life situations.
3. One-to-one lessons are worth their weight in gold; the lesson is entirely focused around you, and one hour of pronunciation or grammar correction can be more productive than hours and hours spent alone with a text book.
4. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Don't be disheartened if something doesn't stick straight away - practice makes perfect. Sometimes you need to find a better way to connect with what you are learning, for example when learning the difficult French numbers, one of my students equates the complex French sounds to things she can visualise in English: quatre-vingt = cat in a van (80), or quarante quatre = carrot cat (44). She might even draw a little picture. Equally, in Spanish I have heard things such as gato (cat) being accompanied by a picture of a cat eating a gateau.
5. Get organised. I believe organisation is key; from how you store your lesson materials, to where you work at home, to when you work. Keeping all your learning together in a folder or notebook will not only show your teacher that you are dedicated and allow you to move at a faster pace, but it will also put you in a better position to revise and will make you feel positive about your progress. The working week always ends up being more hectic than we think it will be, and we always hope for a quieter week next week... but that quieter week never comes. We need to learn to maximise the free time we do have; set aside a particular timeslot every week to look over your work - and don't compromise on it! Choose a Thursday night, or a Monday morning... or whenever you like, as long as family and friends know that will be your 30 minutes to yourself to sit down and work on a project which is important to you. .. Or better still, make them test you! ;-)
6. Don't stress. If you are struggling with something, or find yourself to be not in the mood to study, leave it. Leave it and come back with a fresh pair of eyes, as it will be amazing how much easier it feels when you are relaxed, happy and ready to learn.