Are You Trapped in a Language Bubble?

Trapped in a Language BubbleIf you’re not already fluent in English and you’re reading this, then congratulations–you’re not stuck! But if you’re already fluent, well, you might just be stuck.

How often do you take the time to use your target language outside actual lessons? Daily? Now and then? Never? (Hint: the correct answer is “daily.” :) )

My English students often complained of having trouble understanding spoken English. But you know what? Few of them bothered to listen to English regularly. Well, you can’t improve your listening skills by reading about connected speech and elisions. (Okay, you can a little, but not that much.)

How You Get Trapped by Your Native Language

Part of this is a psychological hurdle. If you think of using a foreign language as Continue Reading…

on August 05 2012 | Filed under Mindset,Strategy Planning | Comment


10 Ways to Get Started Learning a Foreign Language Today

A view of Budapest's Liberty Statue from Ménesi Road.

A view of Budapest's Liberty Statue from Ménesi Road.

You hear it all the time: “I’d like to learn Greek some day” or “I’ve always wanted to learn Japanese” or any other similarly phrased wistful comment on language learning. Some people keep saying something like this for years. If they’d invested as much time in learning as they had in dreaming, they’d at least be able to hold a simple conversation in that language they’ve “always” wanted to learn.

Sound familiar? If so, why not start now? As in, today. As in, right this minute (well, after you finish reading this post). Yes, I know you’re busy, but even so, there are ways to squeeze in a little learning. Sure, if you’re under an unusual amount of stress right now, it’s just not a good time to start something new. But otherwise… Continue Reading…

on April 14 2012 | Filed under Mindset,Strategy Planning | Comment


A Quick Spring Update from Faster Foreign Language Learning

Cherry tree in bloom and the steeple of the church on Kálvin Tér, Budapest

Cherry tree in bloom and the steeple of the church on Kálvin Tér, Budapest

I haven’t been posting much, but I’ve been working plenty behind the scenes. :) One of the things I’ve been working on is a guide I know will be useful to a lot of you. In fact, it’s information I wish I’d had about 20 years ago.

The other bit of news could save you some money, so read the second half of this post, too.

New Guide Out! Conquer Your Foreign Language Anxiety

Fear of speaking a foreign language is one of the most common problems foreign language learners face. Sure, when you’re speaking a language you don’t know well, it’s normal to feel a little shy and insecure. Minor nervousness like that goes away as you gain skill.

The real problem comes in when you’re so afraid to speak that you totally avoid conversation and have trouble even speaking at all in class. Nausea, sweating palms, and racing heart are all fairly common in this situation. Worse, you may find you get flustered and anxious when simply listening to a foreign languange you can’t understand well. You get stressed out when you can’t understand what someone’s saying to you.

This kind of anxiety not only makes you miserable, but it can also do serious harm to your ability to learn and rob you of the chance to develop, use, and enjoy your foreign language skills. The good news is that you can get rid of this anxiety. It will take some work and it won’t happen overnight, but it is possible.

Conquer Your Foreign Language Anxiety is a practical, experience-based, step-by-step guide to overcoming your fear of speaking a foreign language. If you’re tired of letting your anxiety hold you back, take a look at this guide. (And it’s only $7! You can at least give it a try, right?)

on March 22 2012 | Filed under Learning Faster | Comment


How to Get the Most from Your Listening Material

headphones When you’re learning a foreign language, improving your listening skills takes lots of listening. Even if listening material for your target language is plentiful, it’s easy to find yourself without enough good material if you don’t make the most of what you have.

By listening to something just once or twice, working through any accompanying comprehension questions or practice exercises, and moving on to the next thing, you’ll go through a lot of material without getting much out of it. Worse yet, you may end up feeling like you’re working awfully hard at improving your listening skills, but not making much progress.

A More Efficient Way to Use Listening Material

Taking a step-by-step approach to working with your listening material helps you get as much as possible from each one. Planning a structured lesson–rather than just passively listening–helps you suck every last drop of usefulness out of every bit of listening material you have so you actually learn and improve your listening skills with all that work you’re doing. That means greater rewards and less frustration for you!

One note, though: the lesson-planning method I’ll describe below works best with material you could understand most of if it were written, but find somewhat more difficult to understand when you hear it spoken at a natural speed.

Of course, sometimes you might want to listen to any authentic material (material meant for native speakers) just to catch whatever you can or simply get used to the sound of the language. Doing this is helpful in its own way, but it’s hard to build a useful lesson around material you find extremely difficult to understand. To use this method, choose listening material that’s at or slightly above your current level.

Step 1: Global Comprehension

Before you listen the first time, set a “prediction task” for yourself. The goal with this is to prepare yourself for the kinds of vocabulary and grammar structures you might hear so you’ll recognize them more easily.

A teacher who’s already listened to the material has a wide variety of possible prediction tasks he or she can give you. When you’re doing this alone, you’re limited in the kinds of tasks you can set for yourself, but you still have a few options. For example:

  • If you’re going to listen to the day’s news, write down a few topics you think you might be discussed.
  • If you’re going to listen to material on a specific topic (grocery shopping, the state of the economy, puppy care, etc.), write down some words or phrases you expect to hear.
  • If it’s an interview, what questions might the interviewer ask?
  • If it’s an anecdote or short film, use the title and any accompanying pictures to predict what might happen in the story.

Listen once through and check your predictions. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, the goal is simply to warm up for more detailed listening. If you weren’t able to tell whether you were right or wrong, have another another listen. When you’re done, you should have the gist of the material and be able to give someone a brief overview of what the material’s about.

Step 2: Discrete Comprehension or Listening for Details

On your next (usually second or third) listening, listen for more detailed information. If your listening material comes with comprehension questions, they’re probably mostly the “listening for detail” kind.

So, when you listen to a news report the first time–aiming for a general overview–you might understand that a bank robbery happened that day. When you listen again for detail, you might try to hear what time it happened, how much money the robber stole, or whether or not the robber hurt anyone.

If you don’t have comprehension questions or other exercises available, focus on anything you didn’t understand. It may be individual words or short phrases. It may also be whole sentences in which you understand all the words, but still don’t quite understand the meaning of the whole sentence.

If you hear a word clearly, but don’t know what that word means, don’t just ignore it or wait until you see it written to look it up in your dictionary. Take your best guess at the spelling and look it up in your dictionary. Getting into that habit can go a long way towards helping you build your vocabulary from listening.

Once you think you’ve understood everything you can from listening, then look at the transcript, if you have. But don’t cheat yourself by checking the transcript after only two or three listenings!

Step 3: Work with Your New Vocabulary and Grammar

Add any new words and phrases from your listening to your vocabulary notebook, if you keep one. Be selective! Choose just a few of the new words you think you’ll be most likely to use, instead of overwhelming yourself with a dozen or more new words.

Then practice using them. Get them into your head and make them your own so you can use them whenever you want. Being able to recognize words isn’t enough if you want to speak and write, too!

Try making up a few sentences using each new word. Create a mind map starting with one of the words. Put a word or phrase into your favorite search engine to see if any good usage examples come up in the search results. (Just make sure the phrases are grammatically correct and acceptable (polite) usage before you bother to write them down and practice them!)

If you noticed a grammar structure you’ve never seen before, look it up in your grammar book, learn a little more about it, and try using it yourself.

Now go and give it a try! If you have a book-and-CD set of listening lessons, use the steps above to expand each lesson to get even more out of it. Don’t have any pre-made listening lessons? Make your own listening lesson out of a radio program, podcast, song, interview or any other recorded audio material you can find.

on January 29 2012 | Filed under Getting Organized,Listening | Comment

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