One of the greatest benefits of technology is that it puts an endless amount of information in our hands and that it simplifies a lot of our daily tasks. This includes learning. With so many incredible and varied resources immediately available to us, it is so much easier to learn a language now than it was in the past.
And not only are learning resources more readily available, the ways in which we learn have changed.
Now, rather than relying purely on traditional methods of study, we get to play games and earn points for learning new words in languages. It’s fun, it’s interactive and it’s motivating. 10 day streak – oh yeah!
But technology also makes us lazy.
Let’s say you’re having a conversation with a friend in one language or another. They can’t think of a word and so they ask you, but it seems you’ve forgotten. The word doesn’t come to you immediately. Rather than spend a moment or two longer trying to think of the word on your own, you grab your smartphone and click open your handy translator app. Voila! The word you were looking for is right there on your screen in a matter of seconds.
But are you going to remember that word the next time around?
It Has to Have Value
When I released my book, I did quite a bit of research on pricing. If you price something too low, people aren’t going to find value in it. If you give something away for free, they’re more likely to see it as disposable. If you price something too high, people will think it’s unobtainable. There’s a middle ground when it comes to giving something value. And it isn’t just for pricing a product. The same goes for knowledge.
If knowledge is too easy to gain, it’s less likely to stick. If it’s too difficult, one may grow frustrated and give up entirely (although there are those who enjoy the challenge). If it requires work, we feel accomplished for having succeeded and value the information we’ve gained.
Research has shown that information that requires little effort to acquire is less likely to “stick” in the big picture – it’s disposable knowledge. The very act of making an effort to learn something has proven to be a more effective learning strategy than the easy route.
Ways to Avoid Lazy Language Learning
1. Review. Even when you think you’ve completely understood that one simple aspect of grammar or you feel as though you’ve mastered the vocabulary regarding, let’s say, air travel, go back and review. I’ve found one of the easiest ways for me to get lost in a conversation is when someone asks me a question in a different way than I’ve learnt it. It could be all the same words in a slightly different order, but even that can throw you off. So, review! The more familiar you are with the material, the more likely you are to retain it and have access to it when the need arrives.
2. Quiz yourself a few days after a study session. You may quiz yourself on new vocabulary immediately after learning it, but it’s actually better if you test yourself a few days later. I often spent the 15 minutes or so before a class cramming for exams in high school only to pass the test but forget everything I learnt a short time later. If I had studied a few days before the test, there’s a good chance that information would have actually stuck with me (and I wouldn’t have to go through relearning it all again in my 20s because I finally decided it was interesting).
3. Mix up your study. Rather than focus on just vocabulary or just reading comprehension, mix different aspects of learning a language together as part of your study sessions. It may feel as though you struggle through each aspect more, but it’s better for your long term memory. Mixing up your study can form all sorts of little connections between one aspect of a language to another and it’s a great way to boost how you remember it all. For example, it also gives you a way to perhaps compare the written versions of words with the way that they sound. Or perhaps your ability to write in a language is more fluent than your ability to speak it. Changing up your study methods not only allows you to create connections with the different facets of a language, but it allows your awareness of where you’re struggling to grow.
4. Know that it’s okay to focus in or “speed up” certain aspects of your study if you’re preparing for something in particular. If you have an exam or a project coming up, it’s okay to focus on the things you need to learn until that event passes. Slow and steady wins the race, but if you have certain requirements you must meet, it’s okay to “cheat.” Just don’t forget to review the test material once more after the exam so you don’t lose the information you put time in to obtain!
5. Take notes. Getting the information you’ve learnt down in your own words does wonders for remembering. Whenever I study a new grammar concept in a new language, I don’t just write out or say practice sentences. I rewrite the grammar rules in my own words in my notes because it helps me internalize the new material. The same works for if you’re having a conversation with someone in your target language. If you aren’t quite sure you understood them, repeat what you thought they said in your own words. Because 1) it helps you make that information your own and 2) the other person will quickly see exactly where you didn’t understand and help correct the problem. This is a much better tactic than simply saying “I didn’t understand” and I often use it with my teacher. She’ll say something to me and I’ll repeat the sentence up to the point that I no longer understood and then say I didn’t understand the rest or repeat the word I didn’t understand – “XYZ shì shénme?” or “What is XYZ?”
So, it’s time to stop relying on passive language learning routines and to get more active with our studies! The more work you are willing to put in, the more rewarding your experience and the more you will value what you know.
What are some of your favorite ways to actively engage with the language that you’re learning? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
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My name is Shannon Kennedy and I'm the language lover, traveler, and foodie behind Eurolinguiste. I'm also the Resident Polyglot at Drops and the Head Coach of the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge.