Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Category: Learning Tips

How to build a working relationship with your tutor

Take personal responsibility for your learning.

The only person who can actually learn anything is you. Your tutor can provide guidance, learning materials, practice and feedback but she can’t do the learning for you.

Remember that language lessons are just one of many things you can do.

For great results you must self-study. Discuss the resources you use with your teacher and see what she thinks.

Learning means, among other things, always doing your homework.

It’s important not only as a way of consolidating what you did in class but also as an essential stepping stone to the next lesson which more often than not will depend on your doing your homework.

It’s just as important to revise everything you did in class.

Studies have shown (and you’ll know this from your own experience) that we need to interact with new information quite a few times and ideally in different circumstances before it’s secured in our long-term memory.

So go over the list of new words from your latest class and pick ten to add to your active vocabulary. Use whatever technique suits you best to memorize them – flash cards, a vocabulary notebook, Post-It notes. And most importantly, make an effort to use any word you want to retain in conversation with your teacher as well as outside class.

Make sure you have at least one lesson a week.

If you can afford two or three and your tutor has the availability, so much the better. Their duration will depend on your learning goals as well as the amount of effort and money you’re prepared to invest and needs to be discussed with your teacher.

Treat your teacher with respect.

Never forget that your teacher is a human just like you. And just like you will have to adapt to her teaching style, so she will need time to get to know you, your learning style, motivations and goals.

Be patient.

The Internet does the great job of connecting language teachers and learners all over the world. Sadly, it also fosters consumerist behaviour which leads to teachers being seen as a virtually unlimited selection of goods and treated accordingly.

If the first couple of lessons with a new teacher don’t meet your expectations, don’t rush to look for a ‘better’ one. Bear in mind that a teacher-student relationship is a two-way street – the harder you work, the harder your teacher does and the more productive your partnership becomes.

If you don’t like a teacher, it may be because she reflects something in your personality or learning that you haven’t yet made peace with.

This is a pretty much universal truth that doesn’t apply exclusively to student-teacher relationships. Other people are often sent our way to act as mirrors in which we can see those aspects of ourselves that we’re unaware of or dislike. Rather than turn away ask yourself, ‘What is it that this person makes me feel uncomfortable with and why?’

Don’t be afraid to express your dissatisfaction but do so with tact (e.g. don’t make comparisons with any other teachers) and in a face-to-face conversation rather than via email. It’ll probably feel quite uncomfortable for both of you but, provided your complaints are reasonable, a good teacher will be grateful for your voicing them and will try to improve things.

Let your teacher know you enjoy her classes and appreciate them.

We all need encouragement to succeed in what we’re doing. It can take many forms – a friendly smile, a thank-you, a positive comment on something we’ve done well. When it comes to learning, asking questions can also be added to this list. The questions you ask your teacher show that you’re actively involved in the process, genuinely interested and keen to know more. Teachers love curious students!

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How to Learn the Right Way

We’re all lifelong learners. The moment we’re born we start exploring the world around us and learning about its ways. We experiment, make mistakes, memorize what worked and what didn’t in a similar situation last time (retrieval practice) and so progress through life becoming more and more knowledgeable each day.

Image by Jan Vasek from Pixabay

However, this is not how we learn in academic circumstances. Here among the most popular techniques are rereading text and massed practice of a skill or new knowledge (e.g. cramming for exams). Empirical research has shown that they are a waste of time and effort. Massed practice works only in the short run because it takes time for new knowledge to get transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory. And when rereading, say, your lecture notes, you practice rereading, not recalling. It’s that simple. Being able to repeat the phrases in your course book doesn’t mean that you have mastered its content. It’s just an illusion of knowing.

Instead try at least one of the following things.

  • Test yourself on the material.
  • Can you define its main points?
  • Try turning the main ideas into questions and then answer them.
  • Connect the new learning to what you already know.
  • Look for examples beyond the text.
  • Find a metaphor or visual image for the new material.

It’s time-consuming, requires a lot of mental effort and might sound counterintuitive but this is how deep, durable easy-to-access knowledge is achieved. Shortcuts won’t get you there.

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Learning a Language Takes Time

Image by Ruwad Al Karem from Pixabay

This is Part 3 of a series of posts about language learning. Read parts 1 and 2 here and here

I think most people give up on learning a foreign language for one reason – they’re not prepared to play the long game. They believe and are often supported in this wishful thinking by self-proclaimed language experts that a language can be learned in a matter of a few months or even weeks.

Now remember how much time and effort it took you to learn your mother tongue. And even now that you’ve mastered it to fluency and, hopefully, proficiency, which is not the same, there’s still so much to do – all those words you don’t know the meaning of, and those you think you use correctly but one day find out otherwise, tricky word stresses, grammar rules you were taught at school but since then forgot, let alone striving to be eloquent without being bombastic. And that’s, let me remind you, your first language!

So the bad news is that learning a language – any language – is a lifelong commitment, which like any commitment requires patience, discipline and perseverance. The good news is that we’re perfectly capable of doing it as our never-ending learning of our native language proves!

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Why You Should Learn Languages

Image by MonicaP from Pixabay

This is Part 2 of a series of posts about language learning. Read part 1 here

I can come up with quite a few ideas why studying a new language is worth your while. In no specific order:

it creates a new you – an individual that speaks a different language (you’re likely to notice that even the timbre of your voice changes when you switch to your second language) and through it becomes to some extent British/American/Italian etc.;

it broadens your horizons bringing into your life a whole new world of values, traditions, ideas and viewpoints you might have never even heard of before;

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Make Learning a Foreign Language a Habit

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

This is Part 1 of a series of posts about language learning

We’re all creatures of habit. Routines make life easier – instead of figuring out how to do something each time, you can rely on good old well-tested practices. Probably more importantly, once established habits stay with us forever, which means you can’t possibly get rid of bad ones; all you can do is replace them with new, better ones. Easier said than done though, as your old habits will resist to the last.

How can you win this battle? Start small. Set yourself a goal, say, to do 10 minutes of listening or make 5 flash cards a day. That’s pretty doable and will make you proud of yourself each time you achieve your daily objective. However, for it to become a habit you must do it every day. If you’re asking yourself ‘why bother?’, then it’s probably time to talk about reasons to learn a foreign language.

To be continued…

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