Making the Most of Your Foreign Language School Experience (Part II of III: Maximize Learning)

Now that you have selected the language school that is right for you, find out:

How To Make The Most Out Of Your Language Classes

Learning a new language is tough work and your task will be more challenging if you don’t put into practice effective strategies that facilitate your learning. Based on my experiences studying Spanish in Guatemala, I have developed a list of must-know tactics that will maximize your learning both inside and outside of the classroom.

How Much Is Too Much? Maximizing Your Potential For Learning

Week one: Scrambled Brain. Guatemala -- April Beresford

Week one: Scrambled Brain. Guatemala — April Beresford

After consulting with the owners of several different language schools, it appears consensus recommends 4 hours of conversational language classes per day. If you are a beginner, any more than 4 hours will be excessive as your brain can only take in so much new information. Studying a little extra on your own every day is better than pushing too hard in a classroom, leading to burn out.

Lesson Planning For Conversational Classes

Make sure that you come to class prepared knowing exactly what you want to work on. Conversation classes are completely different than studying a language in high school or college. Your teacher will not take complete charge of what you learn and when. Instead, for the most part, you will lead the discussion and determine the focus of each lesson. Come to class having prepared specific questions concerning grammar, verb conjugations and topics of conversation that interests you.

Keep it Interesting

Learning how to communicate with locals is the best way you can position yourself to connect more deeply with the local culture.  I found it fascinating to learn about local values and traditions from my teacher. After we grew to know one another better, she would tell me funny stories of her childhood which we both found to be very entertaining. Remember that you will be chatting with this person for hours throughout the day. It won’t be productive for either of you if the conversation becomes dull.

Studying: A Little Goes A Long Way

Always spend a few minutes reviewing some of your verbs prior to classes. Learning verbs quickly is the key to understanding and communicating sentences involving action words. The tough part is learning to switch from present tense (which you will learn to work with first), to future and past tenses. I found that the faster I was able to pick up verbs (like need, want, go, stay, run, etc), the better I was able to communicate my needs and understand the needs of others.

How To Structure Each Class

At the beginning of class I would concentrate on practicing my vocabulary and learning rules of grammar, mostly memorization. Toward the end of my lessons every day I found I didn’t have much mental energy to communicate. Therefore, I would be the one speaking toward the beginning of class, then the second half of class, I mostly listened. This structure kept me focused and engaged. When my teacher discussed her culture she appeared very enthusiastic which helped keep me interested despite my struggles in comprehension.

Maximize Learning Outside Of The Classroom

Week two: Trying hard, still not sinking in. Guatemala -- April Beresford

Week two: Trying hard, still not sinking in. Guatemala — April Beresford

Spend time reading a newspaper or magazine aloud in the language you are studying. This will help you learn to recognize the sound of words so you can understand them when they are pronounced by others. I find magazines and children’s books to be most helpful because they have pictures, and the visual cues will help you with memorization.

Fun Activities That Will Help You Learn

By watching television, and listening to music in the new language that you are studying, you will speed up your learning. I found that TV helped me memorize idiomatic language much quicker, especially if I watched a program I was familiar with. I noticed that programs with subtitles in Spanish (with English audio) required me to use of a lot less cognitive energy. Your brain will pick up and process what you are hearing faster than you are able to read the script, so you won’t have to concentrate as hard. When I am feeling mentally drained, this is the route I go because my comprehension of Spanish in written form is strong and my auditory processing of the language is weak. If I want to push harder I watch shows in Spanish with English subtitles. Ultimately, your goal is to converse in the new language so you must learn to recognize what you are hearing first and foremost. When you are watching TV, eating meals at the kitchen table, or just sitting around idly, have a vocabulary list handy so you can periodically glance at words and their translation.

Tools You Can Purchase To Speed Up Learning

Purchase a Kindle as you can read a book in the language you are learning then if you get stuck on a word or an entire sentence, you have the translation at your finger-tips. This is a much more efficient system than fumbling through a dictionary. Lessening frustration will facilitate an increase in discipline, enabling you to dedicate more time to reading. Download or purchase online, Rosetta Stone’s version of audio language tutoring or Spanish, with Michelle Thomas (2000). I personally recommend the Michelle Thomas package as I have been working with it for months and I love the way the audio classes are structured. You will listen to the teacher (Michelle) engage in conversation with both a male and female student on the audio tracks. Michelle leads the conversation and the group practices structuring sentences; while you can pause the track and take the time you need to practice speaking aloud. Audio tracks are a great way to study at your own pace without feeling the pressure of face-to-face conversation. I have never worked with the Rosetta Stone classes but from my research I have concluded that it is a highly reputable resource. Michelle Thomas offers courses in Spanish only, whereas Rosetta Stone has courses for over 20 different languages.

Don’t Hold Yourself Back!

My biggest challenge with learning Spanish is that I am a perfectionist, so I am reluctant to speak to native Spanish speakers unless I am certain I know how to convey the message, correctly. One must be confident and willing to take a chance to pronounce something wrong or say something that makes no sense at all, to create opportunities for spontaneous learning. When it comes to practicing my language skills I feel very shy because my vocabulary is limited. I often clam up in groups and find that one to one is currently the only circumstance where I feel comfortable and confident conversing in Spanish. You need to establish who you feel most confident speaking to, and under what circumstances the words flow from your mind with the greatest ease.

Feeling Self Conscious When Speaking With Strangers

You may feel pressured to give quick responses when communicating face to face and having spontaneous conversation with strangers. In my experience speaking with people on the street is difficult, compared to having conversations with someone I know, as I feel intimidated knowing the individual is waiting for me to reply. I find that maintaining eye contact can be difficult as I am often preoccupied thinking about the other person, worrying about the passage of time. I quickly learned that if I simply said, ‘one minute’ then glanced away for a brief moment, I could stare at a neutral object rather than into the eyes of the person with whom I was conversing. I found this process helped keep my anxiety at easy and people were very patient, giving me the time I needed to collect my thoughts.

Limit Distractions Where Possible

This should go without saying, but I will say it anyway. The louder an environment is, the more difficult it is to hear the person you are conversing with. Keep this in mind when determining where to have in depth conversations.

Set Yourself Up For Success

One way to set yourself up for success is to ask people things you already know the answer to. For example: Getting directions to a place you already know how to get to. The responses will make more sense to you (since you already know the way) and you can practice hearing the appropriate descriptive language. You must have the courage to know you are going to struggle to communicate and to comprehend but every time you fall you must pick yourself up and try again.

Techniques Recommended For Adult Implementation Only

Several of my fellow students have insisted that alcohol is an age-old elixir that decreases anxiety; one of the barriers preventing many of us from practicing our new language. I can’t say this is a technique I have tried but I have received this suggestion more than once. Those who advocate for this strategy insist that with just a little booze in their system (not an excessive amount) they were able to express themselves with less-inhibitions and an increased level of confidence. My personal preference is to not rely on liquid courage, but I can certainly appreciate the appeal.

Keep Motivated

Tercera Semana: Yo hablo un poco de Espanol!! :) Guatemala -- April Beresford

Tercera Semana: Yo hablo un poco de Espanol!! 🙂 Guatemala — April Beresford

Your quest to learn a new language probably won’t be a walk in the park. At least, it hasn’t been for me. When I began studying Spanish the only language I knew at the time was English (my native tongue) so it has been extremely challenging for me to learn how to think in another language.  Take every opportunity that comes your way, to practice, even if you are feeling shy or insecure. Trust that the people around you want to help you succeed. Be patient with yourself and don’t let anyone rush you. Don’t be discouraged of you are working hard and it feels like the information is not sticking. Do your best and sooner or later something will click and you will be a toddler again, soaking up the language like a sponge.

Last Thoughts  This is the second of a three part series to make the most of your language experience in a foreign country. 1. How to select the best language school for you2. How to get the most out of your language classes. 3. The final article coming next week will discuss the advantages of the homestay experience (living with a local family) versus finding your own accommodations such as a hostel.

~ An Extraordinary Story by April Beresford ~

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3 thoughts on “Making the Most of Your Foreign Language School Experience (Part II of III: Maximize Learning)

  1. Pingback: Making the Most of Your Foreign Language School Experience (Part III: Homestay vs. Hostel) | Karina's Extraordinary Life

  2. Pingback: Making the Most of Your Foreign Language School Experience (Part I of III: Selecting the Right School) | Karina's Extraordinary Life

  3. Pingback: Making the Most of Your Foreign Language School Experience (Part I of III: Selecting the Right School) -

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