Maximize Your Language Learning Activities

Last week I was picking my kids up from school when I saw one of the fifth graders run by with a magnifying glass.  It was a sunny day and the trail of kids behind him told the story.  He was off to magnify the sun and burn something up – hopefully not an unsuspecting bug.

As we walked to the car, Malachi  was telling me all about it, about the white dot of light and the smoke and eventually the small flame that flickered to life on the dry branch upon which the intensified beam of sunshine had thankfully been focused.

It seemed a teachable moment and so he and I talked about things in our lives that we sometimes tend to magnify until they burst into flames.  He is eight and has a tendency (as all eight year olds do I suppose) to make mountains out of molehills, to make little issues into big issues and to waste a lot of time fretting and worrying and generally getting worked up for nothing.  It was a good talk and one more step on the journey of growing up to be a healthy, well adjusted young man.

Later though as I was reflecting on the magnification of light and on our ability to magnify small things in our lives disproportionately, I realized that there is another side to the story.  Magnified light in the hands of a fifth grader is often destructive, but it can be a good thing too, starting a fire to warm a cold body.  Indeed, there are many things in life that we can magnify to make more intense and in many cases, more effective.  In doing this we maximize our opportunities for success

As a language coach I talk a lot about finding ways to maximize the activities and methods that we use to learn.  There are probably some “bad” methods out there but I believe that with a little work, even bad methods can be maximized and utilized for better, more effective learning.

Let me be clear.  I do believe that some methods are better than others.  Good methods will make learning another language better in every sense of the word.  But we are not always able to take advantage of the “best” methods.

Last week I shared an infographic about learning the English language.  Kaplan International College created it and because they are an institution interested in helping folks learn English at their language schools, it came as no surprise that, when respondents were asked to choose which of the given options reflected what they thought was the best way to learn English, 85% chose, “Travel to an English speaking country and have English classes with other foreigners.”

Of the options given I would agree completely with that choice.  The problem of course is that a tiny percentage of the world’s English language learners are able to travel to an English speaking country to take a class.  There will be enough to keep Kaplan and other institutions in business and I am certain they are doing a great job and that the students who grace their halls will be well served and grow in their command of the English language.

But this highlights a challenge that we all face:  How do we chose the best methods or activities for learning another language?  If we wait for the “best” option, we may never get started.  If we chose whatever is at hand, we may waste away in a discouraging cycle of frustration and stagnation.

So what is an everyday language learner to do?

I think the place to start is with an inventory.  

  • What is your learning style?  [read more about learning style]
  • What are the available resources?
  • What is your situation in life?
  • What are your goals with the language?

The next step then is to pick the options (that’s plural, as in more than one option) that are best for you.  Note, I did not say, the best method or activity, I said, the options that are best for you.  There is a difference and if they are available we should always chose the best methods and activities but the fact remains that a bad method applied is better than the best method left undone.

As well, I think many are looking for either the silver bullet which will meet all their needs  or are settling for the easiest option.  So many think that language school for example is the best way to learn another language.  But as a participant of a language learning program recently shared,

I realize more now that “language school” is not my answer to how I am going to learn the language once we get there. It is only one tool that I have to work with among many. This was a bit of a paradigm shift for me.

Hopefully The Everyday Language Learner is helping everyone who stops by make this paradigm shift as well.

Once you have a list of the activities and methods you will use or are using to learn another language, the final step is to consider how you can maximize them to make more robust learning opportunities for yourself.  Almost anything you have ever heard others do as part of a learning program can be maximized.

Maximizing a learning activity could mean increasing in convenient and easy ways the amount of repetition and review you are getting with the language.  It could mean adding emotional connections, background knowledge and context clues to what you are learning.  And it could mean that you have found a way to make what you are doing so insanely fun that you find yourself staying up late into the night just to keep doing it.

Here are a few of the ideas I have discovered or come up with in order to maximize my language learning.  I have written about them here in the past, but share them now to help get us all thinking about how we can maximize what we are doing to learn the language.

Label Up:  Labeling the stuff in our home is an age old activity that most have used at one point or another.  In this article I share how I was taught to maximize labeling to make it a more robust learning activity.

Using Flashcards Effectively:  Like labeling, everyone has at one time or another used flashcards.  In this post I share ideas for maximizing the flashcard experience to make it more effective and efficient.

Handcrafted Audio:  I think that writing is a great activity for language learning.  With handcrafted audio writing is maximized.  HCA creates a convenient, integrated review through writing.  This is probably the most effective language learning idea I have come across.

What about you?  What are the strategies and ideas you have discovered that have helped you take ordinary learning activities and maximize them?

[Be sure and read 10 Ways to Maximize Your Language School Experience]


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4 Responses to Maximize Your Language Learning Activities
  1. Rachel Ash
    April 26, 2012 | 6:05 pm

    I read. And reread. And reread again if I need to–it’s important to get to the point that I can read something without having to think about it.

    Then I can read something else and will for certain have the vocabulary and structures from the previous reading in my head as automatic meanings–no need to translate into English.

    • aarongmyers
      April 26, 2012 | 11:21 pm

      Reading is a huge part of a maximized language learning program. Thanks for pointing to it here. I’ve written about it’s importance some, but should probably write more.

      Any favorite books, authors or series of books?

  2. Cz. A. Liebert
    April 29, 2012 | 12:34 am

    I’ve immersed myself in English completely. Literally. If I listen to a radio it is BBC. If I watch TV I choose channels where I can switch to English. I even choose English in ATMs. I have English set as my default language in my cell phone. The books, newspapers and magazines I read are all in English. Thank God I can buy them in one of the bookshops in my town (Raciborz, Poland).

  3. Allan Ngo
    May 4, 2012 | 4:17 pm

    Hey Aaron,

    Great post again. I love the taking inventory part the most

    “What is your learning style? [read more about learning style]
    What are the available resources?
    What is your situation in life?
    What are your goals with the language?”

    It is very underestimated. Planning out and actually taking account of your strengths and weaknesses will save you plenty of time, effort and money. PLUS! knowing your target/goal is usually not taken into account when starting a new language.

    For me, since social media is huge! I changed the language of my Facebook and Twitter into Mandarin and will be opening a Weibo (Chinese equivalent of Twitter) soon.


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