Though many students may feel they have a mental block or even lack the aptitude foe learning foreign languages, most can learn a second language IF they are wiling to put in the necessary time. Here are some practical suggestions for studying effectively, overcoming anxiety, and learning the grammar and skills necessary for success in college foreign languages classes.
Reading and Writing a foreign language are analytical skills. You may be good at these if you are a logical person who attends to detail. Train yourself through practice to notice and remember details such as accents and gender agreement.
First read the vocabulary list for the assignment. Next, read the questions over the reading. Then read all the way through a new passage two or three times, guessing at meaning from context. Avoid word-by-word translation. Isolate new vocabulary and study it separately. DON’T write between the lines! Make flash cards. Carry them with you and recite them several times during the day at odd moments. Over-learn them until they are automatic. Isolate new grammatical forms and study them separately. Write the pattern on a flash card and memorize it. Write out and label a model sentence. When you encounter the form while reading, pause and recite the pattern to recognize the form.
Pay attention to detail: notice accents, order of letters, etc. Compare letter-by-letter different forms (singular, plural, gender, etc.). Write out conjugations of verbs, declensions of pro-nouns, etc. and check your endings. Memorize irregular verbs.
To master spelling, have a friend dictate 10 words to you. Write them out and immediately have your friend spell them correctly aloud while you look carefully and point at each letter. Repeat until you get all the words right. Write (in your own simple foreign vocabulary words) a story you have just read.
Listening and speaking are performance skills. You may do well at these if you are naturally gregarious. Students in foreign language classes often have difficulty hearing and speaking because they are anxious about making mistakes. Give yourself permission to be spontaneous and to take risks.
Study out loud! Mimic the sounds of the language. Don’t mumble. Although most people feel embarrassed making strange sounds, the language will soon feel more familiar to you.
When called on in class, say something, even if it’s wrong: you’ll learn from it. If you need a moment to think, repeat the questions. If you don’t know the answer, say in your foreign language, “I don’t know” or “help!” Practice with a foreign student who wants your help to learn English or with another class member.
Jo Ann Cope Powell, PhD.