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February 2019

Tips for Distributing Your Study Efforts

Optimizing your time between reading, listening, and more

There’s study, and then there’s smart study. When it comes to language learning, there are so many facets that it can be difficult to know exactly on what to focus. If we allocate our time properly as we advance, we can ensure a smooth transition from the beginner stage to advanced.

There is no right lesson plan for any one person, so you’ll have to develop a study routine based on your priorities and weaknesses. Focusing on a particular goal, however, can help you make your language study more efficient.

Starting Out

A student just beginning the language learning journey needs a strong foundation upon which to build. While many language methods eschew grammar lessons for more natural exercises (Rosetta Stone, Duolingo), we’ll focus on traditional learning here. For many students, starting with the textbook is a great way to begin.

The beginner ought to learn the basics, so jumping into a novel or a film might not be as initially useful. A good textbook will include grammar, vocabulary, reading material, and cultural lessons; it’s everything you need to start.

Learn as much as you can from the textbook, allocating at least 85 percent of your time to the text and 15 percent of your time to flashcards (Anki is a good online tool for flashcard study).

Increasing Vocabulary

If you already have a strong grasp on the grammar but need to increase the words you know, reading and the use of flashcards are key.

You’ll want to spend at least 50 percent of your time reading. Choosing the right book is important; you don’t want to select anything too easy or too difficult.

Non-fiction books are helpful because they avoid poetic prose, which can be confusing to students. History books are a great choice since they teach about your target language’s culture. Newspapers are also wonderful, as they expose you to a wide variety of subjects and vocabulary.

Dual-language texts are great if you find it difficult to refer to a dictionary for each word you don’t know. These books offer original text pages juxtaposed with translated pages. Just remember that dual-language texts offer translations for meaning and not always direct definitions of each word.

Write down the important words you just learned and turn them into flashcards. You should also add more words from other sources. Spend at least an additional 30 percent of your time studying these words and finding new ones. Flashcards may be boring, but they are a quick way to learn and remember new words.

The remainder of your time can be allocated to listening material, whether through television or podcasts.

Improving Comprehension

Once you know enough words to get by easily, you can transition away from rote study. Reading will still be a fundamental part of study, and you’ll continue learning new words this way, but instead of putting the focus on building vocabulary, you’ll now be stressing comprehension.

At this stage, listening to podcasts ought to be much easier than before. Listening is fundamental to communication, and having good listening skills will help a lot in the real world. Start listening to podcasts with native speakers. Watching movies is okay too, but remember that most people in the real world don’t talk like characters in film.

Keep allocating at least 40 percent of your time to reading, but increase your listening studies to 40 percent. You can reserve the remaining 20 percent to flashcards or whatever else you think needs work.

Improving Speech

Once you have a solid sense of vocabulary and a good ear for the language, it’s time to really focus on your conversation skills.

The best way to improve your speech is to speak with a native speaker. Either find a friend or look for a language partner online who can chat with you regularly. Find someone patient who has an interest in speaking about various subjects (don’t just stick to one). A good conversation could revolve around a book that you are reading or perhaps a film you recently saw.

Really Putting it All Together

When it comes down to it, nothing beats actually visiting the country of your target language. It’s here where your language skills will really be put to the test, especially as you encounter new colloquialisms and different accents. Travelling is also one of the biggest reasons for learning a language in the first place!

What are your tips for language study? Let us know on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” telc English for more articles on language learning.