In this blog, Anni sets out the four key factors in learning a new language effectively. As a language specialist, Anni has spent time researching additional language acquisition and as a teacher now uses these four factors in her lessons to help learners master language learning.
If you’ve tried learning a new language as an adult, you are probably familiar with how difficult it can be to retain vocabulary, grammar rules and pronunciation – and that’s not including the likelihood of a new alphabet or writing system! There are books, videos, podcasts and apps out there to help, but these can’t replace the benefit of learning one to one with a tutor. In order to become confident in a language, you need to be exposed to it frequently, otherwise, your brain is likely to ‘forget’ the vocabulary. Scientifically: the neural pathways to the language will be weakened as your brain prioritises other areas, so recall becomes more difficult. So, how to go about making it stick?
Repeating phrases aloud or by writing them will help your memorisation and pronunciation of new words. The more you say something, the more the muscles in your mouth will remember the shape of the words and this will improve your accent and confidence in speaking. Speaking aloud and looking at a new word through rewriting it also aids with memory due to the way memories form more easily when you are doing a movement – there is a lot of singing and actions when learning a new language in primary school for this exact reason! During this step it can be helpful to make links between the new language and any languages you already know: for example ‘Wasser‘ in German is very close in spelling to English ‘water‘, or use a language learning strategy to help memorise a word: for example, ‘Naturwissenschaften‘ in German means ‘science‘, ‘natur’ sounds like ‘nature’ which can be studied in science. This step doesn’t take long to master (only a few minutes, depending on how much vocabulary you have to learn) and you can quickly move on.
This step requires your brain to access short term memory; if you’ve used effective language learning strategies this should be relatively easy. With recognition, you are exposed to the target vocabulary through translation, listening or reading exercises and will need to “pick out” the words which you recognise. Language games are great with this step! Recognition can take a while to master, and may require you to take a step back to repetition at times. I would usually spend a couple of lessons helping learners to recognise new vocabulary before moving on.
If you can recall a word or phrase from a simple question, then you have truly memorised the vocabulary. ‘Wie alt bist du?‘ (how old are you?) would require a number or a phrase which you have already covered in recognition; here, though, you have to reach into your short term memory to pluck out the right answer. Once you are ready for the recall step, you can participate in conversation or partnered activities, or can fill in the missing words in phrases you have just learnt. This step can take many lessons to master which unfortunately standard curriculums don’t have time for.
The final step is one which can only be confidently accessed once the prior three have been successfully mastered. To reuse language means that you are able to manipulate vocabulary into new phrases or sentences in order to use it as a tool to communicate your intentions. It is here that you can write or say phrases or even whole sentences to answer a question, or convey your true feelings about a subject. By being able to reuse language, you have made it your own.
Young children make learning a new language look really easy, and it is, for them! As babies and toddlers, we all had the potential to learn multiple languages simultaneously; this skill is lost by around the age of 7, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn a new language beyond childhood! By structuring your language learning in an effective way, as I have set out above, you should be able to learn a new language with a bit of dedication and perseverance. It will be well worth it!