Tips On How to Be an Independent Learner. Part 3

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

See parts 1 and 2 here and here

  • Don’t be shy to ask your teacher if you have questions.
    • Asking questions is a sign that you accept responsibility for your learning, that you’re curious and interested in the subject – teachers love that!
  • If you need help, ask for it.
    • Life can get too busy and complicated for you to handle everything on your own. You may need help not only with your learning but also with other things, e.g. house chores, childminding etc. Feel free to ask your tutor, your family and friends, other students, online and offline.
    • You’ll be surprised how much people love helping others.
  • If you face a setback, ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and back in the saddle’ (Shakira)
    • Learning is not a linear process. You may expect it to be like a smooth upward curve but in reality it’s pretty messy with ups and downs and plateaus, twists and turns and even U-turns. So don’t despair when things aren’t going the way you’d like them too. To cheer yourself up, read success stories, listen to inspirational TED Talks, use the power of positive affirmations, or find people that motivate you to carry on.
    • Remember: if others succeeded, then you can too.
  • Enjoy your learning journey and have fun!

Tips On How to Be an Independent Learner. Part 2

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

See part 1 here

  • Create an inspiring study space
    • Regardless of whether you study space is a whole room or just a laptop on the kitchen table, set it up in a way that will bolster your motivation for learning.
    • Make sure it’s as comfortable and cosy as possible and that everything you need is to hand.
    • Eliminate distractions: put your mobile away for the entire duration of your study session (or better still, switch it off), ask your family members/flatmates to keep quiet so you can focus, even turn off your computer if you don’t need it.
    • I prefer to study in silence but some people find that some instrumental music in the background helps them concentrate and be more productive. Songs with lyrics are more likely to distract than to assist your learning.
  • Set study goals
    • Whatever it is that you’re learning, it’s a long journey and before you embark on it you need to know where you want to get and how to get there. That’s why you need to set goals. They’ll give your learning direction, allow you to evaluate your progress and course correct if necessary.
    • Set daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.
    • Make sure they’re challenging enough but at the same time achievable. (‘Watch English movies for 3 hours a day on a daily basis’ is not a realistic goal, is it?)
    • Don’t set too many goals at once. Start with one, and if you make good progress in a month or so, then add one more.
    • Think of a tool that’ll help you know when you’ve reached your goal or whether you need to re-think your study strategies. I personally like 30-day challenges (also a great way to create a new habit or get rid of an old one that no longer serves you) and lists with boxes to tick off.
    • And – probably the most important thing to bear in mind when it comes to goal setting – plan for obstacles. A road to success is not a straight one, but one full of twists and turns and even U-turns. So be prepared to face difficulties and get stuck at times, it’s okay. When it happens, have a rest, and then ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and back in the saddle’.
  • One (baby) step at a time
    • We live in a world obsessed with speed. We want everything ASAP whatever it takes. However, learning is not like buying stuff on Amazon – one click, and you’ve got it delivered a few hours later. Instead it’s like growing a tree. It takes time and effort, and there will be days, even weeks, when you’ll feel like no progress is being made.
    • So be patient, keep working and allow time for changes to happen. One day you’ll look back and be amazed how far you’ve got and how much you’ve achieved. So take the first step towards your goals today and keep walking.
  • Make the most of your study time
    • Before you get down to work, make sure you’ve eliminated distractions and time-wasters such as your mobile, email and social media.
    • If you struggle to concentrate, consider trying out the so-called Pomodoro Technique. This time-management tool was created back in the 1980s by France Cirillo, then a university student. To time himself, he used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato, or ‘pomodoro’ in Cirillo’s native language, Italian.
    • Here’s how it works: 1) choose ONE task to work on 2) set a timer for 25 minutes and work on your chosen task without interruptions 3) when the time’s up, take a five-minute break to move around or grab a bite; taking breaks is a MUST 4) repeat steps 1-3 until you’ve completed four tasks or until you’ve run out of study time on a particular day and then have a 30-minute break.
    • Needless to say, you’re free to play with the study/break ratio. See what works best for YOU.
  • Keep your study materials in good order
    • Whether it’s a notebook, a ring binder or folders on your computer, make sure you’ve got everything sorted out and easy to find and refer to when necessary. (Note that your idea of ‘good order’ is almost certainly different from other people’s, and that’s okay.)

To be continued…

Tips on how to be an independent learner . Part 1

Image by Kidaha from Pixabay

Here’s what I’ve learnt from years of self-study and extensive reading about how we learn.

  • Accept responsibility for your own learning and success
    • It may be an uncomfortable truth for some but whether you achieve your learning goals or not depends mainly on you and the decisions you make. You’re free to make any decision you like but remember that every choice has its consequences and be prepared to face them. Plus researchers claim that students who feel that their achievements depend on factors within their control (e.g. the amount of effort put in or learning strategies used) are likely to have a stronger belief in their ability to achieve goals and change their lives as well as higher levels of motivation.
  • Develop a growth mindset
    • Some people are convinced that intelligence is like the shape of the ears you’re born with – you’ve got what you’ve got and that can’t be changed. In psychology, this belief is known as a fixed mindset. However, research has shown that you can boost your intelligence with hard work, the right study strategies, perseverance and self-belief.
  • Think positively about yourself and your learning
    • As humans, we tend to focus of the negative. And it makes total sense from the evolutionary point of view, as our ancestors stood a much better chance of surviving in a world full of predators if they were on a constant lookout for threats to their life. We no longer live in the wild but the ancient instinct is still with us. The good news is that we can harness it by consciously paying attention to the things that go right rather than wrong and feeling grateful for them.
  • Find your own ways of motivating yourself when you don’t feel like learning
    • Your motivation will go up and down, and that’s okay. For this reason, be kind to yourself but also discover how you can pump it up when it’s low. Motivation can be found not only in your future dreams, achievements and treats you’ve planned for yourself but also in what’s already there, be it an inspirational quote, a walk with your dog or a song that makes you sing your heart out (I just love Sia’s Unstoppable which never fails to empower me and make me feel good about myself). To sum up, don’t waste time waiting until you feel inspired to study – what if you never do? So just get down to work, and motivation will come in the process.

To be continued…

Using Internet Resources to Learn English on Your Own: Pros and Cons

It’s a popular belief these days that all you need to study a foreign language is access to the Internet. No need to spend money on textbooks or tutors, just find a YouTube channel/podcast/blog you like – and Bob’s your uncle (=used to say something will be easy to do)! Well then, why aren’t we all multilingual (=speaking many languages) yet? Because the truth is the Internet may be a wonderful source of information but it takes much more than that to learn a language.

I’m a self-taught learner by nature, and for most of the 30+ years I’ve been studying foreign languages I did so in the same way my parents had done. It involved a lot of reading, listening to tapes (which in turn involved a great deal of pausing and rewinding), keeping a vocabulary notebook, looking up unfamiliar words by finding the right page in a massive 1000-page dictionary, translating from English into Russian and vice versa.

To learn a foreign language that way was possible but it took a huge amount of willpower, determination and time. And it was anything but fun.

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

How things have changed since then! The Internet has given us 24/7 access to all sorts of language learning materials – from books, blogs and films to audiobooks, podcasts and online games. How come an average student of English/French/German etc. still struggles to achieve fluency and often gets stuck at the lower intermediate level?

Continue reading “Using Internet Resources to Learn English on Your Own: Pros and Cons”

Vocabulary: How Many Words Do You Need to Know?

In this post I’d like to look at the vocabulary aspect of language learning.

If we liken speech to a house, then words are the bricks and grammar is the binding agent that joins them together. Both are important. However, it is possible – at least in theory – to build a house with bricks only, though it won’t be safe to live in, whereas cement on its own is good for nothing (though here I may not be quite right as I’m not a builder, but you got the idea).

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Now, how many words do you need to know to be able to effectively communicate in a language? Well, let’s first make a distinction between active and passive vocabulary. Passive vocabulary includes those lexical items (words, idioms, collocations etc.) you recognise and understand when you come across them in text or speech. Active vocabulary as you might have already guessed is what you can actually use in your speaking and writing. No prizes for guessing which one is bigger.

Continue reading “Vocabulary: How Many Words Do You Need to Know?”

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!

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.

Continue reading “How to Learn the Right Way”

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!

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;

Continue reading “Why You Should Learn Languages”

Make Learning a Foreign Language a Habit

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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…