Language Learning Tip #17

Problem

“I am trying to change some of my language learning habits, and  I have ideas, but somehow I don’t put them into action.”

Idea:  Address problems with strategies not with wishes.

The bottom line is that people who are successful at learning a language can easily explain the strategies they use and why they employ them. (O’Malley & Chamot, 1990; et al)  Everyone employs strategies to learn a language, but some strategies will be more effective for you than other strategies.  Do you know what your strategies are?  If someone asked you — “What is your strategy for putting vocabulary into your long-term memory?”  or “How are you going to work on your pronunciation?” or “What can you do to improve your reading speed?” — would you have a clear answer?

What do I mean by “strategies”? “Language learning strategies are the often-conscious steps or behaviors used by learners to enhance acquisition, storage, retention, recall, and use of new information.” (Oxford, 1990)  This is strategizing in the key area of memory and integration of knowledge.  But strategies also include things such as time-management, handling emotions and attitudes, social and relational strategies, compensating for weaknesses and gaps, maintaining motivation, self-evaluation,  etc.

Remember that your strategies will be individualized to fit your goals, personality, and resources.  But most of the best strategies have already been invented and used by others before.  Find out how successful learners strategize and steal the best ideas from them.  You might even organize a party where people share their strategies in different areas.  You may be surprised that even less talented learners have developed some good strategies for learning certain aspects of the language.  Often the ideas you hear may not be a perfect fit for you, but with a few alterations they might do nicely!

Most jobs demand a specialized knowledge or an expertise in how to do it.  For example, if you were to train to be an apiarist, you would study everything about bees and how they produce honey.  If you were to become a gourmet cook, you would need to do more than learn how to flip burgers.  And if language learning is your full-time job, you should aim to become an expert in it during these two years.  Not an expert in Arabic, rather an expert in how to learn Arabic.

Next we will look at how to create strategies that are suitable for you.  But you can begin with starting a journal, which we discussed in the last message.

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