Learning a foreign language: several experience-derived tips

So you’ve decided to learn a foreign language – good for you! You’ve just done yourself (and your future) a favour that you will without a shadow of a doubt find to be priceless and even capable of turning your life around (for the better).
Much as I’d love to, I won’t delve into the benefits of learning a foreign language today though – for one thing, it would have to be a novel-size post (yes, that’s how many they are!), and for another – it would steer me away from the main topic of today’s post, namely practical tips for learning a foreign language.

I have decided to share some of the learning techniques and methods I have used myself back in the days when I first started studying English, hence the title “experience-derived” tips.

1) Studying new words:
I had a vocabulary-learning system back when I was at Foreign Language school that I must say was extremely efficient and useful for memorizing new words – especially in the first (and most intense) year of studying English, when our homework assignments would regularly include learning 50 to 100 new words daily (all taught in class beforehand). It was nothing I had invented for sure – I just “borrowed” it from somewhere, although I can’t remember exactly how I came to discover this method. Anyway, here is the gist of it:

First you take a sheet of paper and cut it into little rectangular pieces/notes – one for each word you’re planning to learn. Then you write a word (in the foreign language) on one note, and on the back of it you write the meaning of the word in your native language. That’s all. Oh and, of course, the hours of cutting tiny pieces of paper and writing words down. When you’ve prepared these word notes, you can then stack them into separate piles containing a certain number of notes. For example, I’d stack them into 50 or 100-word piles, neatly wrapped with rubber bands.

At first, you look at the word, then look at its meaning on the back, and move on to the next word in the pile. The second time you go through that particular stack of words, try to recall the meaning of the word first before flipping the note around to see if you’re correct. And remember that repetition is the key here – i.e. you will need to go through each stack repeatedly every once in a while, if you want to keep the words in your mind. And, where possible, try to use as many of them in your speech.

I realize this is a very old-school type of a learning technique and that most probably very few of you beginner learners would contemplate doing it, let alone actually sit down and get on it. And it’s totally your call, of course – you’re free to choose any learning technique you want. For me though it did wonders – wherever I went (travelling, etc), I’d always carry with me a few of those stacks, and refresh my memory on as many words as time would allow me to.

It does require quite a bit of patience though to prepare all the little notes – what with all the cutting and writing. Looking back, I’m quite stunned myself that I have actually had the patience to prepare hundreds – no, thousands of these – back in my high-school years (as a typical Sagittarius, I seem to have an innate lack of patience). But my passion for languages and my ambition to become as good as I can possibly get at this language apparently proved stronger than anything else I lacked. And besides, patience can be cultivated – even if you don’t have it in you :-)

That’ll be it for this week, folks – but keep watching this space for more tested and proven learning techniques – I promise the next ones (or at least some of them), will be less trying your patience and more fun!

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