How to learn another language – Part 2

Part 2: Receptive Skills – Reading and Listening

In part 1 of this series, 5 questions every language student should ask themselves, we looked at some ways you can stay motivated on your language journey. Now we will focus specifically on what you can do to improve your receptive skills (reading and listening). The lifelong language learning skills discussed in this article are aimed at intermediate level learners of any language, but these ideas can be adapted for lower or higher levels with a little bit of creativity.

First things first. Before anything can come out of your mouth in a new language, something has to go into your brain. If you have ever tried to learn another language, you might have noticed that to start with using your receptive skills was much easier than using your productive skills (speaking and writing).

Have you ever stopped and thought about how you read in your mother tongue? Now might be a good moment to do so. Did you realise that you probably don’t read every single word?

Notice what and how you read over the next 48 hours. Emails, text messaging, news articles, adverts, we speed read them all trying to get the general meaning and main points (skimming) or locating specific information like a time or an email address (scanning). Interestingly the skills we use when reading in our native language rarely transfer effortlessly into our new language. We have to consciously work on them.

How to read a news article:
1. Look at the headline and the pictures that accompany the text. Think about what you will read. What do you know about the subject already?
2. Skim the text quickly for general understanding. Were your predictions correct?
3. Read the text a second time, this time for detailed understanding. Scan for who, what, when, where and why.

That’s it, you’re done! You didn’t even need to read or comprehend every word to get a satisfying level of understanding. If you want to, you can take a minute to process the text for useful language. Underline words you want to look up, words you would like to use, synonyms etc.

Learning about text composition:
1. Find a newspaper article online that looks like it might be interesting to you. Don’t read it yet. Print it out.
2. Cut it up into paragraphs and mix them up.
3. Make yourself a cup of tea.
4. Read the headline/title. What does it make you think of? What do you already know about this topic?
5. Take some time to read some of the paragraphs (in any order), does what you read confirm some of your ideas from step 4?
6. Try and put the article back into the correct order. Think about what you would expect to read in the first and last paragraphs. Then fit in the middle ones.
7. Read it through from the beginning, does it read well? Do you want to change around any pieces?
8. Finally compare it to the original version online.

Tip: Look for links between paragraphs by asking yourself questions:
-Who (or what) are they talking about? Are they mentioned again?
-When did this happen? Are they talking about the past, present or the future? Do the tenses/time references match?
-Are there any connecting words (eg. But or however for contrast / furthermore or and for giving more information)

You can attack the listening skill in a similar way to reading. Note when and how you listen in your mother tongue. I listen a lot to the radio. But I don’t listen carefully to every word when the DJs are speaking. I tune in and out depending on whether the topic being discussed interests me. Or if I’m at a train station I prick up my ears when I hear my destination mentioned, but the rest of the time I don’t pay attention to the announcements. Can you apply the same listening techniques to your new language?

It’s a good idea to connect listening activities to habits you already have. I’m currently working on my Italian at the same time as taking a Dutch beginner course. To make sure I work on my listening skills in each language I have assigned a different language to regular activities. I listen to Dutch radio and my Dutch coursebook CD in the car. I listen to Italian radio when I’m hanging out at home. Unpleasant housework (washing up) is accompanied by podcasts from my favourite London radio station in my native tongue, English.

Have you ever tried watching TV in your new language? Maybe you can re-watch your favourite film or TV series. Make the most of the internet, there are plenty of free online resources that you can use to improve your receptive skills.

Try and apply these tips in the next week and see how you get on. Measure your progress (for some ideas on how to do that check out part 1 in this series). Tell me how it goes!

In part 3 we will cover how to work on those scary productive skills.

For more useful information like this, please sign up for our mailing list using the form in the side bar on the right.

For information about English language courses in the South Holland area you can email me at info @ englishvoice .nl

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

How to learn another language – Part 1

Part 1: 5 questions every language student should ask themselves.

Study topic or living language?

So you want to learn a new language, what’s the first thing you do?
Look up courses, buy CDs and a grammar book, order a learner’s dictionary…

The traditional approach to language learning involves going to class, working from a coursebook, doing a series of activities and lots of homework. Every student in the class wants to get the most out of their investment of time and money. But many discover that the initial enthusiasm doesn’t last, they don’t have time to do their homework, they are not satisfied with their teacher or they miss a few lessons.

Is it still possible to benefit from the effort put in? It is if you realise that learning a language is a journey, not a destination. You can use the momentum gained from your initial actions to maintain progress and motivation. How?

I encourage students to take an active part in the learning process by asking themselves the following questions:

1. Who has responsibility for learning anyway? Me or my teacher?

I have found that students who consciously think about and evaluate their learning benefit more than those who do not. Is it enough to go to class once a week and do the set homework? Many would agree that more is needed.

Take responsibility for your learning.

2. What kind of learner am I? What’s my learning style?

Do you like learning in group classes or do you enjoy quiet personal study? Do you learn better from studying or from doing? Do you like doing word searches but hate those filling in the gaps tasks?

Notice how you learn best and keeping doing it that way. Ditch the activities that drag you down and demotivate you.

3. Is it better to learn a language on my own or in a group?

Is it possible to learn a language alone? To a degree, yes. But you would probably agree that at some point you will need someone to speak to. You don’t necessarily need to enroll in a language course. Instead you could:

-Join a club that uses the language you want to learn.
-Find an interesting LinkedIn group and join in with an online discussion.
-Ask a friend on Facebook to introduce you to one of their friends who speaks your target language.
-Join a cookery club or fitness class in the language you want to improve. Combine your language goals with learning something else that you’re interested in.
-Check out what the local community that speak your choice of language are up to on

4. How can I measure/evaluate my progress?

Keep good notes. Making and keeping word lists (or flash cards), with new vocabulary recorded by topic with examples, opposites, synonyms and notes on common errors will help you review what you have learnt and see how far you have come.

What about keeping a learner’s diary? Write down activities you did to work on the language and how it went. Was it easy? Or difficult? Did you enjoy it? Did you retain what you had learnt or forget it all? Use your findings to become a better learner.

Most smartphones have a voice recording app. You could record yourself now and then again in a month. Listen for pronunciation issues. Check how you use the tenses. Compare your recording with a native speaker. You will have concrete evidence of your progress!

5. How do I start?

Be proactive. Fact: The more you work on something, the more benefit you’re going to get.

-Personalise what you study by choosing topics you find interesting.
-Ask your teacher for suggestions.
-Find ways to live in the language you are studying.
-Build new habits (or transfer existing habits like reading the news from your mother tongue to your new language).

I hope you have found these ideas useful and that they motivate you to continue on your language journey, one step at a time.

In parts 2 and 3 we will specifically look at what you can do to work on your receptive skills (reading and listening) and productive skills (speaking and writing).

For more useful information like this, please sign up for our mailing list using the form in the side bar on the right. Then you’ll never miss a thing!

For information about English language courses in the South Holland area you can email me at info @ englishvoice .nl