Category Archives: Studying Foreign Languages

Fun Helps Language Learning, Study Confirms

A new study recently published shows that playing word and picture games greatly helps language learners.

The study from researchers at The University of Nottingham and published in journal PLUS ONE, found that fun and informal ways of learning not only helped people new to language learning, but actually made traditional methods much more effective.

The study was led by several members of Nottingham University’s School of Psychology: PhD student Marie-Josée Bisson, and Drs Walter van Heuven, Kathy Conklin and Richard Tunney. Ms Bisson said, “The results of this study have implications not only for language learning and teaching, but also for anyone interested in improving their knowledge of a foreign language.

“They show that informal exposure can play an important role in foreign language word learning. Through informal exposure, learning can occur without intention, in a more effortless manner.

“Anyone attempting to learn another language would benefit from activities such as simple games using foreign language words and pictures, or foreign language films with subtitles where they can enjoy the activity without focusing on trying to learn the words. The results of this study suggest that these kinds of informal activities can facilitate language learning, even days afterwards.”

The advantages of learning a foreign language are numerous, allowing for better cultural understanding and awareness and better employment prospects. But, learning a second language can be a difficult and stressful process.

The idea of informal learning is not a new one – many language teachers and students have watched foreign language films, spent time immersed in a foreign country and have found these techniques to deliver great results. It is however, the first time that an academic study has been able to validate students’ and teachers’ long-held opinions on the matter.

The University of Nottingham study used spoken and written foreign language words along with pictures depicting their meaning to measure foreign vocabulary learning in complete novices.

Split in to two parts, the study aimed to see if informal exposure to foreign language vocabulary helped learning. The first part of the study involved English speakers who knew no Welsh. They were shown some Welsh words on a computer screen and asked whether a particular letter had appeared in each word. They also heard a recording of the pronunciation of the word whilst viewing it, as well as viewing a picture of the word’s meaning. The important point of part one of the study is that the pictures and words shown to the students were irrelevant to the task they were given and they specifically had not been asked to learn or memorise the Welsh words.

The second part of the study attempted to see what the students had passively retained during part one. The students were specifically directed to learn the English translations of Welsh words. Pairs of written English words and spoken Welsh words were presented to students and each then had to determine which was the correct translation. Whether they were correct or not was fed back to the students, enabling them to learn from their mistakes and ultimately to learn the vocabulary. Key to the study was the fact that half the Welsh words in part two were introduced in part one of the study.

The results showed that students performed better on the words that had been introduced informally earlier, than words that hadn’t. Further, this better performance was found to also be true some time after they were informally introduced to the words. The researchers found that participants retained knowledge unintentionally learnt during the informal phase even as much as a week later following further explicit learning of the Welsh words.

Five Language Learning Traps to Avoid

Only very clever people are good at learning languages. This is something I hear quite a lot, believe it or not. Sure, some languages are harder than others, as they may for example be tonal. So, being intelligent doesn’t hurt per se, but what is it that really sets those with an academic grounding apart from the rest of us? Suitable learning strategies, discipline and self-awareness. And it is with this idea that we look today at language learning through habit rather than rote. Specifically, we’ll look at five common language learning traps and how to avoid them.

1. Are you paying attention?

Who are the best language learners? I would say unequivocally, babies. They don’t learn language by forever conjugating verbs, or by learning 20 new words each day. Instead they listen. Babies learn language by hearing and parroting sounds. Older language learners need to recognise the power of the silent period of language learning: listening helps you to reinforce vocabulary, grammatical structures and to spot patterns in language use.

Whilst listening is (or should be!) our most-used communication skill, it can be difficult to practice, depending on what and where you are studying. Perhaps you don’t live in a country where your chosen language is spoken, or you are not having intensive, immersive language classes. Don’t worry, you can still listen more by hunting for your own resources: search online for music, films, radio shows – even podcasts – in your chosen language and make sure to build as much listening as possible into your study sessions.

2. Are you keen and engaged?

Do you really care about the language you have chosen to study? Are you passionate about its culture and hope to use your new found language skills in the future? Being interested in what you are studying is a very important point. Like our babies from point 1, curiosity and attitude is a key facet to successful learning.

A study into attitudes and language learning was conducted in Canada during the 1970s. The study came about following tensions between English and French speakers in Quebec, where both languages are spoken and taught. It was found that English speakers who looked down on French Canadians routinely failed to perform in learning French, despite many years of mandatory study at school.

A learner who is keen and embraces their target language’s culture will be much more successful in their studies. Key reasons for this include being generally more receptive to the language itself and importantly, being much more open to making friends and communicating with native speakers of the language.

3. Are you mentally relaxed enough?

Many studies into language learning have found that students with rigid minds, who don’t handle ambiguity well, have a hard time learning new languages. This should be a comfortable concept to understand – language learners encounter a great deal of uncertainty all the time.

A language learner will also experience a level of ambiguity, even when they approach near native levels of fluency. There will always be new vocabulary, new grammar, irregular verbs or even colloquialisms.

If every time a language learner comes across a new word and immediately reaches for the dictionary, progress will be slow and often painful. Guessing the meaning of new vocabulary from its context is a better, more natural approach that will do wonders to reduce your frustration. I’ll admit, this can be a tough nut to crack, but there are a few exercises you can do to help you on your way. Find songs, poems, short stories etc in your target language and practice working out the rough context of the piece, before worrying about exact definitions of any words you don’t recognise. Once a language learner has a decent degree of proficiency, this exercise can be repeated with newspapers too, which are a fantastic resource for serious language learners.

4. Are you relying on only one learning method?

There really is a diverse range of approaches to language learning available today. There are traditional text books, listen and repeat products delivered through language-lab type software and even podcasts too. Many modern foreign language dictionaries even contain grammar lesson style pages too.

Whilst each of these methods is perfectly valid and many language learners will express a preference for one particular style, limiting your learning to one method is a big mistake to make.

Using different methods to develop and practice different language skills is a key approach to use. You will find similar concepts explained in different ways, allowing for deeper understanding. Further, the variety will help to keep you keen and engaged with your studies. Mix it up, and keep yourself from getting in a rut.

What is most important to is to ensure that any language learning you undertake covers the four basics tenants of language: reading, writing, speaking and listening.

5. Are you embarrassed to actually use the language?

Despite being last, this is probably one of the most important points on this list. Being able to conjugate any verb in any tense, or score full marks on any vocab test, doesn’t mean anything unless you can actually use the language in an everyday way. To best learn, improve and succeed in learning a foreign language you must speak it.

I can speak from experience here. Sometimes the urge to clam up through shyness and fear of embarrassment is strong. Students can easily become too afraid of getting the grammar wrong, or of a mus-pronunciation. But, this is all part of the language learning process and any fears should be forgotten.

The more you choose to speak, the better you will get, as you will better understand the limits of your language knowledge, and any errors can easily be corrected before you learn them and consign them to memory. In fact it is well known that the more you speak, the quicker you will improve in all areas of language study.

British Students Can’t Talk the Talk

To be more accurate, they can’t speak Foreign Languages that well it seems, following the recent publication of a report from Ofsted, the UK’s schools inspector.

The study found that British foreign language students are unable to hold a normal conversation. They went on to say that lessons and preparation for language exams has become no more than “an exercise in memorising sentences”.

The report went on to warn that school children are too reliant on textbooks and are unable to relate to the language in any real-life way. It appears that there really is a lack of focus on developing solid spoken and written language schools in England’s schools and this has had a knock-on effect of the popularity of language courses amongst students.

The numbers of students studying for GCESs in subjects such as French, German or Spanish has dramatically fallen from 80% to 48%. This is now prompted the British Government to make language courses compulsory again in schools – a u-turn on their previous decision to allow students to drop language studies when they reached 14 years old.

However, Ofsted’s report was critical of the government’s response to the problem, arguing that secondary school lessons should be made more challenging in order to stimulate interest amongst pupils again.

Christine Gilbert, chief inspector of schools, said: “Learning a foreign language equips pupils with invaluable skills and can also be a very enjoyable experience. Yet many young people are not reaching their full potential, or are deterred from continuing to study languages, because of the way they are taught. One of the ways we can do this is to strengthen pupils’ speaking skills so that they have the confidence to converse independently not only in the classroom but in other situations too.”

Top Tips for Studying Foreign Languages

Top tips for studying foriegn languages from UK Student News and Events

Learning a second language is a great idea and while it may not be easy, you will certainly find it very rewarding. It will definitely be a challenge so we’ve put together the following tips to help anyone studying foreign languages. We hope you’ll find them useful and they should help you to study effectively, get rid of your nerves as well as give some pointers on how to achieve success in your foreign language classes.

A little everyday goes a long, long way. Learning a foreign language is totally different from studying a subject. You can’t leave all the work to the last minute and hope to “cram” just before exams. Studying foreign languages is a cumulative process and if you want to get the most out of your course you should study for a couple of hours every day.

Study smartly. Split your day’s study time up into smaller chunks, no more than 30 minutes in length and spread them out through the day. Not only will you get more done this way than if you spent 2 hours solid studying, but by focusing on different topics throughout the day you will be able to cover a lot of material. This way, you’re practicing all the elements of the foreign language, every day.

Go to class. Do remember why you’re studying a foreign language in the first place – for the experience and to achieve something. Even if you haven’t finished your assignment, still go as you will learn so much more if you go! Classes provide the ideal opportunity to practice your foreign language skills with your teacher – more often than not a native speaker – so you really should make the most of the opportunity.

Make friends to help you whilst studying a foreign language.Talk to other people. Introduce yourself, make friends and you’ll soon have loads of people who you can practice with. Not only can you study together, but we all know how good it feels to be amongst friends and a happy environment means you will progress much further while studying a foreign language. It’s also a good to idea to get to know your teacher. Why not have a coffee with them after class and you can discuss your goals and worries too.

Know your grammar. Grammar is the most important part of any language and if you want to progress whilst studying a foreign language you will have to learn it. Sorry, but that does mean some boring study sessions, but once you’ve got the basics you’ll be flying along in no time.

Do your revision. Tests are very important so make sure you prepare for them. The best way to prepare for your language tests is to practice past exam papers and do them under timed conditions too. This way you will be really comfortable with the format of the paper, how the questions are asked and how long to spend on each question. Even though exams are there to test your progress, you should remember that these exam techniques can help you relax and ultimately do better.

Follow our tips for studying a foreign language and be happy!Be happy! Make sure you have a good attitude and that you do all you can to enjoy your studies. Hopefully you’re already motivated enough to study a foreign language once you are on a course, so keep your goals in mind so you can stay positive throughout your foreign language course. Remember it’s ok to make mistakes – that’s how we all learn.

Ask for help. Never be afraid to ask for any help from your teacher or fellow students. If you followed our advice and quickly introduced yourself to people you should have no problem in getting a study group together. Your fellow students will support you and group study is a great way to practice a foreign language.

Be sure to come back soon as we’ll be bringing you a guide to reading, writing, speaking and listening next. You could also register to stay up-to-date with UK Student News and Events.

10 good Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language

With so many reasons for studying a foreign language read our Top 10 GuideThere are so many great reasons for learning a foreign language that we thought we’d bring you ten of the best! Learning a foreign language could really be a great idea and in ways that perhaps you hadn’t considered. We think that to just remain monolingual, like other things in life, just forces self-constrained limitations on you. We live in a fantastically richly cultures world and we should all strive to understand and learn as much about our world’s diversity as possible. By not learning a foreign language you could limit your communication and thinking skills but more importantly, you may miss out on a whole host of opportunities for personal, professional, social and economic development and success. Sick and tired of reading things like “Cold shredded children and sea blubber in spicy sauce” on menus? There are many foreign languages that you could choose to earn – French, Spanish or English for example. Here is why you should be learning a foreign language.

1. To Widen your Understanding

Learning a foreign language allows you to fully appreciate the culture and its context of a country. By understanding a person’s culture, for example, you can avoid situations which could cause misunderstandings. Such events have been widely documented in the press over recent years and companies like HSBC have built successful advertising campaigns based on understanding cultural differences. Being able to understand other cultures and through learning a foreign language you can bridge the gap between cultures, which would be a powerful tool in today’s modern world. It is interesting to note that 52.7% of Europeans are fluent in at least two languages, whereas only 9.3% of Americans.

2. Improve your Employability

A fundamental element of business is being able to sell a product. Selling is all well and good in your own country, but what happens when it comes to selling in a foreign market? To sell you must understand the values and morals of the people you are selling to. We live in a truly global economy and companies constantly expanding overseas. A more recent development is the globalisation of countries from less developed countries, such as China and Thailand, to English speaking countries. These factors create strong demand for multilingual employees – businesses need you and are willing to pay for you!

Despite what career you choose on, or whatever your life aims, it’s obvious that learning a foreign language certainly won’t hurt you. The likelihood is that job opportunities would open up to you that wouldn’t have and what’s for sure is that you will have much more earning power. And at the very least, you certainly will stand out against a monolingual job candidate.

3. Better your own Language skills

Research has shown that having an understanding of a foreign language also helps your native language development. It has been found that students can develop better vocabularies and an improved level of literacy all through studying a foreign language. In fact, studies have shown that students’ exam scores – such as SATs – have improved year-on-year for every year a foreign language is studied.

4. Develop life skills

Learning a foreign language involves different learning skills and helps develop key skills through listening, writing and reading. This in turn will help actually help you improve in other areas too. Your general reading and mental skills improve through studying a language. In fact, if studied from a young age, there will be a very noticeable benefit to cognitive development, such as creativity, problem-solving and reasoning. But in addition to these skills, learning a foreign language will give you important life skills. You will be better able to adapt and cope with changes and to deal with unfamiliar and new situations. You will also find that you are better able to communicate with people from all walks of life.

5. Stand out when Applying for Higher Education

Being able to show to University Admission Clerks that you have previously studied a foreign language could add significant weight to your applications. You will show that you are a more rounded and educated person – the sort of thing that Admission Clerks absolutely love.

If you are looking to study a postgraduate for example, a foreign language may well be a prerequisite of admission. This is especially relevant for those students considering PhD applications as research is often published in books and professional journals around the globe.

6. Discover Entertainment from Around the World

There are so many great books, films and music from many counties around the world. A translation or dub is just not the same as many elements of language simply can’t be translated literally from one language to another. To be able to access the world’s great wealth of literature, music, film and theatre you should do them justice and enjoy them in their original form. Learning a foreign language will certainly open your eyes to amazing things.

7. Enjoy Travelling

Learning a foreign language can make travelling much more rewarding

Being able to travel and fully immerse yourself in the country and culture is a fantastic way to holiday. Being able to “go native”, taking part in the everyday life of regular residents. Of course, we all know it is possible to travel anywhere these days without speaking the native language. But, if you don’t speak English then, well, you’ll struggle to say the least. The language barrier can be anywhere from mildly frustrating to dangerous and intimidating. Having studied a foreign language you will feel comfortable in ordering food, understanding directions, being able to fully travel on public transport and save considerable money and maybe even batter for things in shops. In fact, many people often appreciate it when you communicate in their language – or in some cases, at least try! And remember, if you really want to explore a country and get away from all the tourist traps, you’re definitely going to need to know the language. Perhaps one of the best reasons for studying a foreign language don’t you think?

8. Being able to study Overseas

If you choose to study a foreign language you needn’t study it at expensive, limited schools in your own country. Why not combine your studies with travelling and find out about study abroad programmes? You’ve made it this far through our Top 10 list and if you’re beginning to think you should be studying a foreign language this could well be the option for you. You could be studying English in London, French in Paris or Chinese in Beijing. The opportunities are endless.

The benefits of studying a foreign language in a study overseas programme is that you will be practicing all the time – as soon as you step out the classroom you will be putting what you learnt into practice. Compared to studying in a school in your own country, the benefits are two-fold: much quicker development of your language skills and the chance to study the foreign language’s culture and context.

9. Increase your Understanding of your own Culture

If you study a foreign language and its culture, you will be able to see your own culture from another perspective. Encountering other cultures will allow you to question things that you’ve taken to be universal. Studying a foreign language will give you the unique opportunity of stepping outside the boundary of your everyday life. Experiences of other cultures and your personal development through the study of a foreign language will greatly shape your identity and heighten your self-awareness

10. Make life-time Friendships

Studying a foreign language and all the opportunities it can bring will definitely increase the number of people on the globe who you can meet and communicate with. Be it meeting international students, immigrants in your community and establishing new relationships with people overseas, studying a foreign language really can change your life for the better.

So you’ve read our 10 good reasons why you should be learning a foreign language and been nodding your head all the way? Great! You have seen how studying a foreign language can richly develop you and your life. So what are you waiting for, read more about studying other foreign languages and study abroad programmes.