Nothing can replace the motivating experience of working with a good language trainer, whether you are having individual or group training sessions. It’s the perfect place to ask all those silly questions and make as many mistakes as you like. But what takes place in the training room or during your telephone or Webex sessions, is not in itself enough to ensure you make the meteoric progress you had hoped. Taking charge of your own learning process outside the training room, on the other hand, almost certainly will. But where should you start?
Setting Aside Time To Practice
As a busy professional whose boss probably has greater expectations of your language proficiency than you do, it is very challenging to find time to set aside on a regular basis to review and extend your language knowledge. How do you decide what and how to study in the limited time you have? As a first port of call, always ask your trainer for help – they will be able to set targeted tasks to improve your skills. They can also help you to decide what sort of learner you are (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic…) and direct you to specific materials for self-study.
But never assume that learning a language is a passive process, you need to work actively on improving your skills by taking charge of your own learning. Make time to review what you have covered in your face-to-face sessions and in your self-study by re-reading information regularly. This is a critical part of the comprehension and memorisation process which makes any language learning successful. It stimulates your memory and helps you to retain new vocabulary. Research being carried out at the Center for Advanced Studies in Language (CASL) in Maryland, USA, shows that improving your working memory will help you to absorb and activate language much more quickly and effectively. Making progress quickly is not only motivating, it also means you will be able to use the language more confidently in real life professional and every day situations.
Using Technology To Help You Learn
If you think you are too busy to sit down and study, there are plenty of ways to make your chosen language accessible on the move. Consider apps for your smart phone so you can practise as you travel, news channels that you can play in the car or films in the target language that help you to visualise the storyline, even if you can’t understand every spoken word. Even when you are tired, let the language wash over you so you attune your ear to its pronunciation. There is no such thing as too much exposure to the language.
The Internet presents a wealth of listening material for all languages. But what should you choose? Much of the material is authentic (the “real thing”, if you like, and not graded to beginner / pre-intermediate / intermediate, and so on) and as such may appear quite inaccessible if you are a beginner. Najiba, an Arabic trainer, recommends playing one minute of news every day in the target language even at beginner level so you familiarise yourself with its rhythms and sounds. She says “I begin every session like this. The learners think they don’t understand, but you play it again and they can hear key words, and soon they get the main message. I encourage them to try it at home.” It is a great way of getting used to the language as it is spoken, rather than the sanitised chunks you learn in the training room – the advantage here, of course, is that it is not then a shock to hear native speakers when you visit the country in question.
Ideally, of course, you should try to spend some time in the country (or one of the countries) where the target language is spoken. Experiencing real use of the language is a very motivating experience, especially when your attempts to communicate actually work and generate the response you were hoping for. Even if your attempts fail at first, you need to be brave and keep having a go – every mistake is part of the learning process. Making an effort to speak another language is a tremendous way to build relationships, personally and professionally, and almost always generates a positive reaction. And you never know, you might even impress your boss.
Kathy Girling is Senior Learning Manager at Communicaid, a culture and business communication skills consultancy based in the UK. For more information on learning a new language visit www.communicaid.com