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#7 - Proven methods to learn a language PROPERLY
Full Transcription Speaker 1 (00:00:04) - Hello and welcome to Spoken Like and native podcast. My name is Diane. I'm an English teacher from Scotland and a devoted language learner. And this podcast is for those learning English to improve their listening and vocabulary with episodes on engaging topics like culture, current events, history, and how languages work. If you want to improve your speaking and listening, head over to speakmeeters.com where you can take part in small group conversations hosted by native speakers. This is an amazing way to boost your fluency, expand your vocabulary, and increase your confidence by practicing with qualified, certified, and selected native speakers who really enjoy helping people. There are sessions at a range of levels for English, French, Spanish, and German. So book your first session today, speakmeeters.com. And don't forget, you can take part in this podcast by telling me your ideas for topics. Information about how to get in touch with us is in the description, enough beating around the bush. Let's get this episode underway. Speaker 1 (00:01:12) - So here we are at episode seven. I can't believe I've done six episodes before this. It's amazing. Today's episode is gonna be a solo one before next week and probably the week after, I'll have another interview with, uh, another host from SpeakMeeters. Today I wanna talk about how to learn a language, how to learn a foreign language, basically. So it's something that, of course, is very fundamental. I can provide you lots and lots of listening content, um, hopefully something that's interesting, but we should also keep it front and center that we're concerned with how to really properly learn a language, your second language. Um, of course, you know that everybody in the world, practically, apart from a few exceptions, people whose brains are different. Everybody learns their maternal language, no matter how strange it might seem. For example, speakers of English or a another European language like Spanish or French, think that learning Russian or learning Swahili or Japanese is really complicated and difficult. Speaker 1 (00:02:32) - But the majority of people, if not all the people who grew up in those in cultures that have those languages, learn how to speak and understand those languages. Uh, reading and writing is not something which is natural to us. We have to be really, um, trained really hard, how to read and how to write. That's something that does require a lot of practice and very explicit teaching. But when it comes to understanding what somebody is saying to you in your maternal language and being able to produce your own meaning in your first language, that's something that all children start to learn from an extremely young age. So what does that tell us? It tells us that learning a language, at least one language is natural, is something that we have inside of us, is something that differentiates us from animals. Now, that's a pretty big topic because of course animals have systems of communication, but in terms of actual language that human beings use what we call the natural languages, such as English, such as Spanish, Chinese, whatever. Speaker 1 (00:03:43) - That's something that's unique to human beings and something that we've, uh, that's, that's, I guess it's been evolved in our brains. So language acquisition is something that comes naturally to us. So it's always useful to remember that when you're practicing and getting frustrated because you don't understand or you feel like you're not progressing, remember, it is natural. Bearing that in mind and taking into consideration my own experience, I'm gonna tell you today a few things to think about when you are trying to maximize your, your learning of the language, things you may not have considered, things you may have already considered, and basically to give you ideas and reassurance and, um, a way to really manage your language learning journey. God, I hate that word journey, but I, you know, your path to success in, in a language. What is it that, why should you listen to anything that I have to say? Speaker 1 (00:04:52) - Okay, well, um, I've been an English teacher for over 10 years now, and before I was officially teaching, I was already doing some more informal tutoring, helping people, um, not only with English as a foreign language, but but also ing for native speakers who are studying English at school in terms of writing, reading, analyzing, text, analyzing literature. There's something that's been part of my, my career, my experience for a very long time, almost since I left university. I studied English at university, mainly literature, but it gives you a really good insight into the way language is used. Then I did masters, um, also in English. I started doing some work on a PhD, which I actually didn't finish. It's a very long process, and for reasons I won't get into, I decided to do something more practical with, with my life at that point. And then I started teaching really. Speaker 1 (00:06:01) - Um, and then later on I started to get some more formal training in, in how to teach. And then I, I did, uh, an intensive course on how to teach English as a foreign language, which I think is very useful because it makes you reflect on how the language actually works. So on top of my credentials and my training, my experience as an English teacher, I'm also someone who has learned two foreign languages, um, to quite a good level, I would say so far. Um, I speak Spanish, uh, which I started learning when I was at school. And I, I still speak today, I live in Spain. I do everything. When I, when we go out, we do everything in Spanish, obviously. I also speak French, and that's something that I started just maybe three years ago. I think just studying by myself and then starting to do some language exchanges, which is something that I think I'm gonna get into later on. Speaker 1 (00:07:02) - How important is, no matter how low either your level is, just to start practicing, start speaking to people who have your target language as a first language. And so, how, the reason that I joined SpeakMeeters as a place to practice languages, and the reason that I'm doing these podcasts is because I'm, I, for me, it's, it's been really exciting to, to find out that it's possible to learn a foreign language. Um, I didn't really spend a lot of time, uh, in a second language until, you know, later, more recently, in the last maybe 10 years or so, even though I, I knew I had the skill to, to speak at least, uh, Spanish, if not, um, more than than that. And I've been really amazed how, not, not that it's easy, but how the consistency in the, the techniques that I've used and, you know, my, my ability has allowed me to, to speak to people from all different parts of the world in their own language. Speaker 1 (00:08:17) - So it's, it's, I would love to continue learning and to learn even more languages like, I don't know, maybe Mandarin Chinese or maybe Russian, um, Arabic, something that's really quite profoundly different in, in some aspects from the European languages that I'm, that I currently speak. But I do these podcasts to motivate people, and I want to share with you as an audience what has helped me to have success and what you might want to consider when you are trying to boost your, your current ability. So, to start off there, I wanna talk about two things together, motivation and objectives, or we could say goals instead of objectives. For some people, they might have a lot of motivation, but not really a clear goal or an objective that sometimes that feels like what I have, uh, in that I am, I can, I can speak French and I can speak Spanish at the moment. Speaker 1 (00:09:26) - I don't have a very clear objective, which is something that I'm working on. So without the objective, sometimes I don't feel as motivated as I did when I was first starting. Cuz when you first start, your objective is to be able to say something, to be able to have a very basic conversation and to understand some, a simple conversation, some simple audio or reading. Um, once you get, uh, to a higher level intermediate, upper intermediate especially, it can be really difficult to maintain your feeling of being motivated, uh, because it is much harder to improve at that level. And so I think it's really useful regularly to reflect back on what do I really want to achieve here? Why am I doing this? If it's just for a way to pass the time, then that's great. Um, but I think most people would like to feel as if they're going in a, a forward motion and making some progress and getting much better in terms of their, their level. Speaker 1 (00:10:43) - So we can do this in terms of, I'm going to do an exam of this level, uh, this year or the end of the next year. Or you could say, in five years time, I want to be at, well, I dunno, see one level. I definitely think that's more than possible for most people. Of course, it depends on the, the time that you have available in your week. Um, you don't have to be as prescriptive as that. You don't have to have an exam, but say to yourself, what do I want to achieve by when and how am I going to measure that? Um, and you don't have to be too strict with it, but at least having a kind of regular reflection should help because, um, you will tend to notice that you are making a lot of progress if you keep up your practice. Speaker 1 (00:11:35) - If you're reading, listening, speaking, writing regularly, you, hopefully you will be practicing, especially if you're getting some, some lessons as well, that would, you know, that makes a, a big difference. But, um, if you, once you have an objective, like for example, which I think is the case for a lot of people with English, especially many students of English are obliged to speak English. They're not choosing the language because they think it's a beautiful, um, an amazing phenomenon. Um, they want to read in English literature, for example. Um, I think there are people who feel that way, but in general, most of my students that I've ever had, have needed to speak English to feel more comfortable and be more accurate in their expression of English for their job or for studying to study in a university where English is the, the main mode of delivery. Speaker 1 (00:12:39) - Um, and that means that, you know, there are a lot of English students who are not very motivated, really, except that, um, the, or the motivation that they're using is what is called an English extrinsic motivation. So this is a motivation imposed by the world, the fact that in many industries, English is used as a way to communicate. Um, like in the European Union, for example, even though, uh, Britain is not in the eu, English is one of the official languages because it means that people from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Italy, can, um, talk to each other. So, uh, that's not a choice that people have made to learn the language. So how can you make yourself more motivated if you feel like this is something that you have to do? Well, I would say you, you can choose the way that you study in order to keep yourself motivated no matter what is the, the final place in which you're going to use your language. Speaker 1 (00:13:52) - Um, it's always very helpful to mix and match different types of input, different types of material. Um, so what I mean by that is don't just get a book of grammar exercises or a textbook of English and or say for example, if you wanna study engineering in English as a, an example, then get the textbook and then read it and only listen to stuff about engineering. I mean, if you're really, really passionate about that as a topic, then great. But the point is to have variety and use things which are interesting and engaging and use Netflix, use whatever, um, streaming series for films you have, use YouTube. Read a book that you read in your first language, in your second language, whatever you like to do. Listen to music, for example, translate their lyrics, whatever is interesting to you, try and use that. It doesn't have to be boring because it's, uh, imposed on you. Speaker 1 (00:15:01) - So this kind of gets me onto the second big topic. If you are choosing things which you love, which are interesting, and maybe if you're having classes, particularly it's, it's easier with one-to-one classes, but hopefully in group classes it might be possible. Give feedback to the teacher. If the teacher is, um, providing you with materials, which, which are boring or you feel like, um, they're not always completely relevant to you, you should say. So. And this is, um, a very useful component to learning something effectively, is that you are taking an active part in the process of learning. Speaker 1 (00:15:47) - Uh, it can be quite, um, common as a teacher for me to come across students who just sit and say, teach me. They have an idea of what they want to learn. Um, sometimes it's very, very general and they say, okay, teach me. But, uh, I try to emphasize to them that they should be taking a lot of responsibility for what kind of topics we do. Uh, identifying what they need to improve on. The students who have the highest rates of success and who progress and improve the quickest are ones that get actively involved in choosing topics, in correcting their mistakes and in suggesting ideas. And also in their free time, they will listen to music and English, or might read some articles or listen to podcasts or audio books or watch series because it's just something that they do as part of their regular practice. Speaker 1 (00:16:53) - Um, I think for people who are in the audience who go to speakmeeters, I probably don't need to emphasize to you as much as to, you know, uh, the world in general, that you have to be really active in your learning of a language. This, um, metacognition, this ability to think about your own thinking and do self correct is very useful. And if you start to take more responsibility for your own learning, you'll have much, uh, quicker results. So of course you can, you can learn by passively, um, following instructions for years, and you definitely will improve. But I think you improve much faster and in, in a way which is much more reflective of, of you if you decide how you're going to study and you are, you know, you're actively engaged in it. Now, you might be thinking that this sounds like it's gonna take up a lot of time, but if you have to make a choice between watching a film of let's say, two hours in the language of your choice and spending, let's say 30 minutes writing a short story or writing anything, translating, for example, a a song which is not available in English, it's, I think it's much more effective to spend a shorter amount if you have to tr to choose, because in reality, a combination of active and more passive, like the listening and the reading and being in an environment where everything is in that language, that is very, very useful for, for our learning. Speaker 1 (00:18:44) - But realistically, most of us are busy. We don't have three, four hours every day to acquire a new language. The way that we got our first language when we were babies is that we were in an environment where everyone was speaking that language and we were like little sponges soaking it all up. And then after a couple of years, we started to say our first words and made lots of mistakes, but we were still, for every hour of every day that we were awake, we were being immersed in that language. So we cannot spend that amount of time in a foreign language. Uh, you can of course move to a country where they speak the language, and that's very, very effective. But you have to, if if that's not your long-term plan and you're gonna come back to, you know, to, to your home, then you have to have a way to make the most of your time that you do have available. Speaker 1 (00:19:47) - So I think it's always good to have a combination of listening and reading, um, and speaking and writing and obviously speaking in writing are much more active. Um, you could also say not just doing, uh, not just listening, but you could do a test of listening. You could download lots of different, um, for the, for the more receptive skills. We call them listening and reading. You can get lots of free quizzes online. So as opposed to always just listening to something really long, uh, or reading something, you could do a quiz on it. So that would make it much more active. Um, if you, uh, need to choose between the two options, I think it's much better to spend some time writing a speech or writing a letter or, I don't know, doing something more active than spending hours, um, in a more passive way. Speaker 1 (00:20:50) - Now, as I said, I think it's, um, important to be able to do both, but the priority should be on things that were, you're actively engaged. So I am just mentioned before how you can do listening quizzes or reading tests. I'm, I'm basing a lot of what I'm saying, not only on my, my own experience with teaching and with also my, my language learning experience, but on what I've learned by doing research. Um, particularly there's a book which is called How We Learn by Benedict Carey, which is really, really interesting, um, which is about the science of, of how we learn things. It's not only focused on language, but it has some very interesting things to say. So, um, why I suggest, for example, doing listening quizzes that is that doing, uh, we sh we shouldn't always put off postpone, uh, the, the exam or the quiz until we feel like we're completely well prepared and ready because it has been shown in, in studies that, uh, actually doing a quiz even before you know, anything, if you know very little about the topic, if you're given a quiz before you study about that topic, even if you fail it <laugh> terribly, which you probably should because it's not an, uh, topic, you know, it helps you to learn as a mind-blowing, uh, idea. Speaker 1 (00:22:26) - But it's kind of makes sense when you think about it. You're given a quiz about, I don't know, a grammar structure or, uh, <laugh> group of, uh, vocabulary words. Um, and you try the quiz and you have no idea and you just kind of guess. But the process of doing that is priming your brain to focus for that kind of material. Um, so that's a really useful strategy. And I think particularly if you're planning to pass a language exam, which, uh, you know, the, the way that the exam is structured and the type of content that they use will be repeated. Just, you know, try to try to do the exam when you feel really unprepared for it. It doesn't matter what the result is. If you can get a free version of the exam script or the, and the recording or whatever type of exam it is, just try it and see if it affects you. Speaker 1 (00:23:24) - Um, if you're not studying for an exam, what you could do is if you use something like du lingo, which I think is, is very good as a tool to use skip, what you can do in your lingo is skip to the next level. And you could just, you could just do that for levels ahead and that will will help you even if you fail and you might feel like you're wasting your time, every time you get something wrong, it's not wasting your time. Um, it's also been shown that the things that take us a lot of time and a lot of repetitions to learn, they're the most, they're the things which stick around longer in our brain. We don't wanna be focusing on things that we know already. Um, we want to be pushing ourselves to use a new piece of information. Um, so yeah, doing things like doing quizzes or, um, what's another thing you could do? Speaker 1 (00:24:22) - Watch something, watch a video where they're speaking really fast without your subtitles and just try really hard to, um, to understand what's going on. And then you can watch, watch it slower, slow down the speed, uh, with subtitles, doing things like that, really pushing yourself. It's, it's not about you, you will fail. And that's the whole point. Failure is really, really useful for learning, but this is part of the learning process is giving your brain the signal to say, ah, this is the kind, kind of information we need to be a aware of and to be learning. So next I have a really, really useful concept, which relates to what I just said about Duolingo. So Duolingo is, uh, one of several different apps or websites for language learning, which use something which is called spaced repetition. A spaced repetition is something that was, uh, has been studied for, for quite a long time. Speaker 1 (00:25:32) - This concept first was studied in the 1880s as far as we are aware, perhaps before, um, by a psychologist who was German called, uh, Harmon Ebbing house. And he was interested in how long it took us to forget something that, something new. Um, so in his tests that he did, he was kind of giving people nonsense, uh, syllables or pairings of words. And then he tried, he did a, a chart of how soon it would be before you forgot this, this new information. And so he discovered that there's something called the forgetting curve, which is a predictable rate at which we forget something that we've learned something new. And there was more and more research on this later on. Um, but this was kind of the beginning of what's called e experimental psychology. Um, so what what's useful for us when we're thinking about our language learning is this idea that we can decrease the rate at which we forget things if we repeat, um, the information in a quite methodical way. Speaker 1 (00:26:49) - So that's why apps like Du Lingo, and if you have any other, I think there's, there's a series of audiobooks called the, I think it's called the Pimsler Method. They use space repetition as well, where, um, they will bring up a topic or a word again, uh, after you've, um, after you've learned it, but in a kind of quite a planned way. So you don't have to use PIMS a or dual lingo. I really like both of them, but there are other apps. Um, so just do a search for which apps and programs use spaced repetition, um, where they actually plan the intervals of time before they reteach you or remind you of, of content. Uh, it's been scientifically proven, it's very, very effective. So the idea is you don't every single lesson or every single time that you are studying a language either on your, on your own or with, um, a teacher. Speaker 1 (00:27:52) - It doesn't have to be all, it shouldn't be new and all completely challenging. You'd need to repeat and review things, and that probably sounds obvious, but, um, you know, don't feel like you are not, uh, studying if you are not looking at completely new things. Okay, one last thing before I summarize. Everything is called practice retrieval or retrieval practice. So that's when you, instead of going back to your notes, opening up your booklet or your online document, whatever you're using, don't just look at the material that you've looked at before and then try and remember it. What's better to to do is say, okay, my focus for today is, I don't know, let's say travel vocabulary. Um, I'm, before I start, I'm gonna try and remember the things that I learned last time. You probably won't get everything, but this process of trying to remember, um, before you've refreshed that makes the, the connection between what's in your brain and what you can actually produce on demand much more quicker. Speaker 1 (00:29:10) - You know, when, when we learn stuff, we tend to store it all away somewhere, but we only remember it if we make an effort to recall it. And of course, so, you know, you know, okay, what's the word for cat in Spanish? Um, I've used that word in Spanish hundreds and hundreds of times, so it's not really any effort to recall it, but that's because I have had to think of the word and then use it in different situations. It's been a long time since I first wrote down on a page at School Kat Ghetto. Um, so when you're first starting, of course with new vocabulary, you have to write it down, you have to annotate it, but it's more effective to ask yourself, to quiz yourself first. What did I write down? What's the word for this? Using things like flashcards or flashcard apps are really good for that. Speaker 1 (00:30:09) - That makes it more likely that you will remember it because the effort and the focused attention on that is going to increase the, the memory strength of it instead of something that's just passively in front of your eyes and you say, oh, yeah, yeah, I know those words. They're on the page. You have to take a fresh page and write everything down. Uh, that, that's another way you can do it. Yeah. So basically going back and retrieving from your memory, uh, how, how well can you recall the things that you want to recall of? Of course it takes time. The whole point of this is that we make mistakes and we forget in order to get better and to remember. Um, even though some people are better at learning languages than others for everyone, it takes a lot of mistakes and a lot of effort, um, and a lot of forgetting before we finally get things more accurate and fluent most of the time. Speaker 1 (00:31:12) - Couple of more things. Uh, we tend to have learned that associating a time and a place and an environment with the ability to learn and to remember something we say, okay, um, I'm going to my study place to my desk and I'm going to learn my language there with my computer. I listen to music or I don't listen to music. And we want to, um, we, we think that we should, um, repeat those same conditions, but actually when they've tested this, it's found that people do better in terms of remembering if they use the same information, the same knowledge in different settings. It makes sense if you think about it. You don't just want to associate vocabulary in French for travel with your desk at home when everything's quiet, because when you go out and you actually go traveling, you're not going to be in that environment. Speaker 1 (00:32:19) - But it makes sense with, with any, any kind of knowledge, any, any kind of grammar or vocabulary sentence structure, you need to be able to use it and recall it and use it correctly in different situations. So that's, for example, you know, you're having a quiet speaking exchange with someone. There's no background noise. You have, uh, everything written down for the mistakes. Um, okay, that's great, but you also need to be able to speak and understand in a busy cafe where there's lots of background noise or think in that language when you're listening to music, for example, or when you're walking down the street or when you're in the library or when you're reading a book or when you're watching a film. The more places and situations in which you make that connection with this word or this grammar structure, the, the more different, um, connections that that has in your brain, the more you're, you're going to remember it. Speaker 1 (00:33:24) - Okay? So remember to mix it up in the ways that you study the places, times of day conditions, different modalities and everything. Um, last thing is don't be afraid to take a break in your study period or during the day, or if you're feeling tired in general. I'm fed up with my language study, take a break. Um, it's been shown that taking rest improves our ability to learn. It's not going to make things worse. Um, of course, you, as I said, with the space repetition, you have to then go back when you feel refreshed, when you feel motivated, when you've got the energy, go back and cover again the things that you last studied. Um, you know, <laugh>, if you change your mind and you want to give up studying the language altogether, um, that's your choice. And maybe that's for the best. I guess it depends on what your objectives actually, but yeah, you need to take a rest and that includes sleep. Speaker 1 (00:34:36) - Um, in terms of our memory and in terms of for anything that we want to improve, anything that we want to learn, any whatever you want to say, whether it's personal development or you're learning about mathematics or you're, um, doing sports, anything that you want to improve, you need to be able to just completely forget for a while. Go and sleep, go and relax. Um, don't force yourself to do things when you're not, um, feeling like doing it, but also keep up the consistency. Um, when you feel like going back to it, go back to it. So that means that I think that it makes much more sense to say, for example, you're going in the week, you're going to do five different sessions of study. Let's say for example, you only have half an hour on five different days, or maybe even less. Maybe you have 15 minutes that I think that would be more effective than doing it all of those five days or four days or however many. Speaker 1 (00:35:41) - I think you should at least take one day off, if not two or three. Um, that will be more effective. It's like with a, with a music practice doing a little bit many times, um, and building on what you're learning than just investing three hours on or, or an hour and a half on, on one day, and then the rest of the week you just forget about it completely. So I've gone through a lot of different aspects, um, and I hope this has been useful for you. Um, if you have any of your own tips and techniques that you have used and would like to recommend them, please feel free to get in touch. Um, I'm now putting the email address in the description for you to get in touch with me. If you have any stories you would like to share or if you have any questions, uh, about something in English, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me. Speaker 1 (00:36:40) - So just to kind of summarize, you need to be motivated. You need to have a clear objective. Doing a quiz before you know anything is a really useful method. Um, being active in your learning is much more effective than only doing passive types of practice. Um, forgetting if we do spaced retrieval, we will remember things a lot better. So we should always review. We should go back to our notes, but cover them first and try to remember before we re-study the same things. Um, and yeah, don't be afraid to, to take a rest from your studies if you're getting overwhelmed or stressed about it. And yeah, the other thing was to mix up what you do, the places, the times, the subjects, the situations where you study. If you're struggling with any of these, please don't hesitate to get in touch. It'll be great to hear from you. Speaker 1 (00:37:43) - I don't mind doing some kind of, um, problem solving for, for people because I really believe that a lot of people underestimate their, their ability to, to learn a language. Anyway, that has been quite a waffly episode, maybe a little bit longer than the last ones. Um, but as you can see, I have a lot to say as someone who's learned languages and, and as a teacher. Um, so have a lovely week as this is probably coming out on a Monday morning. Um, don't forget to come to speak. Meet us if you haven't done already and see you next week. Bye. Speaker 1 (00:38:23) - Thanks for listening. What do you think about today's topic? Remember, you can get in touch by leaving a comment or by joining the SpeakMeeters Community. Follow SpeakMeeters Instagram and subscribe to spoken like a native on your favorite podcast platform. You can also leave a comment and like the stream. Please, please, please leave a review. It really helps us to find new listeners who are looking for fun language learning content. And lastly, don't forget to head over to speakmeeters.com to take part in live conversations hosted by friendly native speakers. That's all for today. Catch you next time. Bye.