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When you’re learning a language on your own, you have to play both roles: student and teacher.
The problem is, while we’re all fairly familiar with being a student (for better or worse!) most of us aren’t too familiar with the other side of the equation. This imbalance can lead you into an ineffective language learning regimen. Even if you’re the model student, you need to act like the teacher once in a while. Why?
Teaching is a profession for a reason—it takes thought and effort to effectively impart information to others. A lot of this time and effort manifests itself in a little something called lesson planning. A lesson plan is a road map not only of what needs to be learned, but also how best to learn it and how to check for comprehension at the end of it all. If you’re only playing the role of student, you’re probably not thinking too much about the “how,” but you should be. Here’s how you can play teacher and plan out a language learning adventure that is sure to lead somewhere great.
1. Determine your learning objectives
Ask yourself what you want to learn, or even better, what you hope to be able to do by the end of your lesson (or by the end of the week, month, etc.). Start with a general goal or topic and expand upon that subject to determine the vocabulary, skills, and cultural aspects you hope to understand.
For example, let’s say you want to learn about daily life in France, and be able to talk about your daily activities. You can break that objective down into more specific tasks, such as learning to:
2. Develop and carry out learning activities
Once you’ve figured out what you want to learn, you should take some time to think about how you can manage to learn it all. The first step is to gather resources. When doing so, consider a mix of fabricated resources (made specifically for learners) and authentic materials (real-life language materials like music, newspapers, etc.) In our example, the learner may want to use:
The next step is to put those resources to use in a series of activities. When learning on your own, it’s easy to think of receptive activities (think reading and listening). Push yourself to work on productive activities as well, including reacting to your resources verbally and in writing. Our fictional learner may want to:
3. Check for understanding
Once you’ve done all of those activities, pat yourself on the back and have a cookie, you deserve it! But you’re not done quite yet. What’s the point of all that studying if you don’t check to make sure you actually learned something?
Assess yourself, and be honest. Our pretend student could look in the mirror and recite his/her daily routine, then repeat the process with a made-up day of his/her French counterpart. Were there words he/she couldn’t remember? Could he/she not think of what a French teen might do at night? These are areas of weakness that can be improved. It’s not a bad thing, either! Identifying areas in need of improvement will ensure you do just that: improve.
So next time you sit down to learn a little more of your new language, channel your inner-teacher. This isn’t to say you need to take all of the adventuring out of your language adventure. Sometimes, you just need to have fun with it. But in the long run, keep your goals in mind, plan activities that align with those goals, and check up on your progress regularly. You’ll thank your teacher when it’s all said and done.
Do you plan out lessons when learning a new language, or do you just wing it? How do you measure your progress?
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