language learning

Language myth #4: “I can’t retain information”

"I have the memory of a goldfish!"

I think it is fair to say that adult learners are often envious of their children’s abilities to learn a language.   The saying is true in many cases; children are like sponges, but that doesn’t mean that our hopes of learning a language are dead in the water!  It is equally true that, quite often, the more ‘mature’ we get, we simply need to work a bit harder; to make a commitment to learning and to find a more effective way to retain information than rote learning.

In my classes, I put most emphasis on using a variety of teaching methods; whether this might be a Powerpoint presentation, a set of flashcards, a worksheet, a conversation, a listening exercise or a game.  Here is an extract from an email recently received from a new client who has been attempting to learn French for a year, with no success beyond “bonjour” and “bonsoir”:

“Thanks again for a great lesson, I still can't believe how much I'm retaining!  For me to make this kind of progress is remarkable! Your teaching methods, materials we’re using and I think the pace you set really resonates with me... I'm really enjoying the challenge of getting to grips with the language.” -  Andy, adult French beginner.

I recommend studying little and often; the more you can study between classes, the more successful you will be.  Find the way that works best for you.

It is estimated that as many as 1 in every 5 people suffers from some form of dyslexia.  Most people assume dyslexia means simply seeing letters in a jumbled order on a piece of paper, but it may also encompass such traits as finding it difficult to retain information for more than a few seconds or being disorganised.  

Simple things such as having a folder to store your work in, or setting aside a regular time to practice can really help.

Try to vary the way you work too – you don’t necessarily need to sit and suffer reading a text book every night:

  • ·Make yourself a set of flashcards for words you find tough to remember.  Make two piles of those you know and those you don’t, until eventually you only have one pile .
  • By a game, such as KLOO GAMES which build vocabulary and sentence structure.
  • Find someone with whom you can practice.
  • Join our FREE social meet up groups.
  • Or for those of you who like Sherlock, you might be familiar with the idea of a memory palace.

Language Myth #3: "I'll be fluent by next year with one hour a week..."

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.

Language Myth #2: "I can't learn a language because I'm dyslexic"

Dispelling common language fears

Many dyslexia sufferers are scared by their school experiences of being stigmatized and stereotyped as 'unteachable' or 'stupid' or 'illiterate'. Attitudes to dyslexia are much healthier nowadays, and nobody should feel ashamed of their dyslexia. Dyslexia is only a problem when a tutor is unaware of the needs of the student, and is inflexible in their approach to get the best results.

It's also much more common that you might think; it is estimated that as many as 1/5 people may suffer from at least one of the symptoms of dyslexia. Famous dyslexics include Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Tom Cruise and Jamie Oliver to name but a few.

So does dyslexia just mean that you can't read very well? Not at all. In fact, dyslexia is a complicated beast; it can mean working memory is shorter, making it difficult to retain information, letters appear mixed up, impairing reading ability, or the individual cannot easily understand how a word sounds just from looking at it.

The great news is that it is absolutely possible to learn a language when you suffer from dyslexia. All you will need is determination and a great tutor who is willing to adapt their lesson plans to help you. Take a look at the following tips:

1. Talk to your tutor. It sounds simple, but this will be the most important step in getting the most out of your lessons; if you don't tell your tutor what you are struggling with, and what your preferences are, he or she won't be able to help you.

2. Multi-sensory learning. A tutor that uses a variety of resources with a dyslexic student will have the most success; use all senses - try video clips, audio clips, conversation, role plays, games and songs, as well as tactile products which the student can touch, such as forming letters and sounds out of clay or a similar material.

3. Know your learning style. There are three main types of learners:

a. Visual learners learn best through seeing things; try overhead projections with clear instructions and vocabulary, with words spaced well apart to allow the individual to concentrate on just that single word. You can also try mind mapping, post it notes, writing syllables in different coloured pens and playing memory games such as 'pairs' to improve working memory and test vocabulary at the same time. Flashcards will also be useful, as repetition is key with vocabulary learning. Mind mapping is also a good way to make bold, visually impactful vocabulary notes which are easier to revise from than a long list of vocabulary.

b. Auditory learners learn best through listening; audio recordings, songs, conversations, and reading aloud will help these students. Applications like WordTalk also enable notes to be read aloud to you, in a text-to-speech function.

c. Kinaesthetic learners learn best by doing things and combining learning with physical activity; this could be memorising notes whilst walking around the house, taking field trips, talking with native speakers or practicing with friends. Touch is also an important sense for this learning group. Try tracing letters or sounds into the air or into coloured sand; it may help to better understand the sound you are making.

4. Did you know that the background colour of the paper you are working on or reading on can help to ease the symptoms of dyslexia? Try using materials printed on pastel colours such as peach or lilac; each learner will have their own preference. Apply this rule to your workbooks too; try to stick to a lined workbook with similar pastel coloured pages, readily available online from many dyslexia specialists.

5. The font a tutor types notes in can also make a difference; for dyslexic students avoid italics or underlining - instead use bold typeface to emphasize words; underlining can make all the lines run together. Sans serif fonts such as Comic Sans, Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, Century Gothic or Trebuchet are often used. There is also a specific open source font available for free online called OpenDyslexic; a font designed specifically for use in schools to aid dyslexic pupils, for those who find that letters often "swim" together on the page.

6. The most important thing you can to do help with dyslexia is to create a tidy, clutter-free space to work in; students should feel relaxed. There is scientific reasoning behind the need for relaxation; when we become anxious or stressed, these thoughts cloud our ability to think, and for a dyslexic pupil who may already be struggling with their working memory capacity, this can make it impossible to learn anything at all. To achieve this relaxation, building confidence is important, and the lesson should be taken at the student's own pace to reinforce the important relationship between teacher and pupil.

Having a tutor who is aware of your learning needs will be of utmost importance; all of my lessons are fully adaptable to your specifications. Additionally, I work closely with a dyslexia specialist, who is also available for consultation to help strengthen your confidence with literacy and language learning. Dyslexia just requires a different teaching approach, but with the correct support, you can excel. Please contact me for more details.