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October 2017

Comprehension Is All in the Mind

Instantly improve your language performance with this one trick

In a recent study, researchers discovered that foreign language students who consumed a small amount of alcohol performed better than those who did not. While this isn't a license to go out and get drunk, it highlights an important part of language learning that many students overlook. It's a practice that can really improve your language abilities immediately: knowing how to relax.

Let it go, let it go

Language students are consumed by sets of rules. Understandably, we juggle these grammar laws in our minds as we speak, forgetting that language ought to be a natural function. Learning to let go, to let reflex take over and letting the mind relax, is crucial to developing natural foreign language skills. It's often when we stop nitpicking every single word that we're able to understand whole phrases for what they are.

Children who grown up with a second language who do not practice it much in later years are often still able to comprehend well when others speak that language. Even though their vocabulary may be limited, they are still able to understand the meaning of things that are said. One big reason for this is because they are extremely familiar with the sound and structure of the language. While this is much to ask of new students, it’s a good reminder to let go and go with the flow, the music, of the language, rather than always over-analysing its grammatical structures.

You don't need to know everything

Imagine a sentence written in your native language. Now imagine if a few of those words were erased. Would you still understand the general context of the sentence? Most language learners have notable vocabulary gaps. But it's not necessary to know every word to understand what those speaking your target language are hoping to convey. You can use the words already you know to determine the context and general idea of a phrase. A problem with comprehension rises, however, when we try to analyse every single word, causing us to trip up and fall behind in the conversation. In other words, don't miss the forest for the trees.

Leggo your ego

Indeed, it’s often the desire to know everything that trips us up, the fear of failure. It’s when we remind ourselves that we are students, that it’s acceptable to make mistakes that allows us to relax. Think of a foreigner learning your native language. When they try to speak with you, are you annoyed and look down on them, or rather do you find their efforts admirable and their accents interesting? For most people, it’s the latter. You are this person for native speakers of your target language.

So let go of the ego. Students who mess up and ask questions are the ones who learn the fastest. Relax and talk as much as you can, remember your mistakes, and try to develop a natural fluency rather than a memorised one. Being too proud to make mistakes is a big roadblock in language learning.

So, in conclusion, learning to relax is an invaluable tool in increasing linguistic ability quickly, developing the calmness one gets from a glass of wine without requiring the glass of wine. Relaxation can calm the nerves and help open up the mind for more learning.

What are your language learning hacks for improving your language comprehension? Let us know on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language learning.