14 Tips to Practice Language Skills with Your Peers

14 Tips That Use Your Peers to Practice Language Skills on Panglossity

Tell me if this is a familiar scenario. You walk into your language classroom. You’re somewhat excited, but a bit tired after a day of work and commuting places. You’re thinking you should’ve probably picked up a third cup of coffee before class and instead of that bagel. You’re really not in the mood to do much, but you know that you’ll get in a learning mood once the class starts.

But why wait? Your colleagues are right there. They’re also probably thinking about needing that third coffee of the day. If there was a way you could engage with them while still avoiding the much-dreaded small talk about traffic and how hot it’s been lately, wouldn’t you do it?

The good news is that I’m going to show you 14 ways to do just that.

Why should you aim to work during the classroom downtime?

Because a lot of the learning done in a group is not necessarily done during class time. The interaction with your peers outside the classroom will help you to:

Review the material in a creative way.

Process what you’ve just learned more thoroughly.

Connect what you already know with what you going to be learning.

Keep your levels of energy and interest up.

Turn you into a self-directed learner.

Become an active participant in your own language learning journey.

Help move some of the information to long term memory.

Build a non-judgement learning community and help you bond with your classmates.

Lessen your resistance to the training, if you feel any.

There are four types of activities that you can do to make the most of the interaction with your peers during class downtime:

  • connecting activities
  • sponge activities
  • wrap-up activities
  • adieu activities.

 

Connecting activities

Connecting activities usually take place before the class begins. Their main purpose is to help you focus on what you already know coming in. They will also help you introduce yourself to the other learners, or start talking to them if you’re usually the kind of person who doesn’t like small talk. How is that different from ice breakers, or just doing small talk? The connection activity is always related to the topic you’re learning in the class. It’s generally used to build up positive expectation about the class, and it will help you ease into learning and focus your energy.

Examples of connecting activities:

  1. Quickly shake hands with two people and tell them one thing you’d like to have clarified by the end of today’s lesson. Ask them what they’d like to have clarified as well.
  1. Share three things you already know about the topic. So if that day the syllabus says you’re going to talk about travel and holidays, share with your colleagues what words and idioms you’re familiar with that can be applied in a traveling situation.
  1. Take a short survey by asking your peers what they remember from last class.

 

Sponge activities

These are short activities that soak up time that would otherwise be lost. Think of when you’re coming back from a break, and you’re waiting for everyone in your classroom to come back and sit down.

  1.  Ask the person to your left one tip they have for language learning. For example, what’s their technique for memorizing vocabulary?
  1. Ask the person to your right what’s the most useful thing they’ve learned during today’s lesson. How do they plan to apply it?
  1. Compare notes with someone sitting behind you. Is there any important explanation or example that you missed in your notes? Fill it in.
  1. Instant class trivia: make up a question about what you’ve learned so far during the class. See if your colleagues know the answer.

Alternative: tell them the answer. See if they can guess the question

 

Wrap up activities

They’re useful for the time after the class is over. You’re getting ready to put your books back in your bag, throw your jacket on your shoulder and leave the room. That’s when you can:

  1. Discuss with a classmate what you plan to do with the new information. Is there an article that you can now read using the words you learned in class? Is a new expression going to help you write better emails?
  1. Exchange notes with one of your classmates. On their notes, take a minute and circle three important things that you want to remember from the materials. Put a star in front of what you think you’ll need to come back to in the next class. Ask them to do the same for your notes.
  1. Exchange notes with your classmates. Write the word WOW! in a corner of the page, in a box. Fill in that box with one thing that you learned that impressed you, or that you think is very important. Or super funny.
  1. Think of a way you can hold yourself accountable for your language learning. Share this with your classmate, and ask them if they’ll hold you accountable. Offer to do the same.

 

Adieu activities

You want to leave the classroom with a (metaphorical) bang! These adieu activities will leave you feeling good about what you’ve learned and energize you for future studying.

  1. On the count of three, ask your classmates to shout: Good job, team!
  1. Tell someone what the best part of the class was for you. Listen to their answer too. High five!
  1. End in TENS : Thanks + eye-contact + name + smile.

You don’t have to do all of these activities every class. Pick a couple of them and  see how they’re received by your colleagues. The most important thing is to try.

Next step? Pick one activity from each category. Try it out in your next class. Adjusts and keep experimenting. And most importantly, have fun!

 

If you’re a trainer looking for more short activities to incorporate in your language class, take a look at the brilliant and value-packed book The Ten-Minute Trainer: 150 Ways to Teach It Quick and Make It Stick by Sharon Bowman.

What is Microlearning?

Microlearning and language learning

The What

Microlearning refers to short, easily-digestible pieces of content that learners can use to expand their knowledge, fill a gap in knowledge or just for pure entertainment. It is generally used to refer to digital artifacts (videos, online quizzes, online lessons) rather than traditional ways of learning (lectures, textbooks).

In traditional learning setting, the information is pushed from teacher/trainer to student/learner. Think of your typical classroom. The teacher comes to class with the material already prepared, or follows a textbook. The teacher provides the information, which the learners are required to assimilate, if they want to “see progress”.

In microlearning, the learner has a need for information (often called knowledge gap), accesses a lesson and finds out the answer to their question. The learners take responsibility and decide what they want to learn based on what they need in order to accomplish a certain task or to advance a certain skill. This is called a pull approach to learning.

The Why
If you’re wondering what are the advantages of microlearning, consider this:

  • Microlearning is learner-controlled. You can get topical answers to your problem and learn what you need to fill the gaps.
  • It is not time-consuming. With most learning artifacts taking anywhere from 1 to 10 minutes, microlearning derives instant knowledge gratification, and it is an excellent filler of idle-time.
  • It is measurable. Every lesson has one clear, distinct learning objective, usually followed by a very short review or reflection time.
  • It is flexible. You can easily go back and forth between the lessons if you want to solidify your knowledge, review, or find the answer to a question. This is not something you would likely do with a one hour class. In language learning, spaced repetition is key, and that is something that can easily work with chunks of content.
  • It accounts for levels of knowledge. One of the most time-consuming and motivation-draining assumptions is that all learners start at the same level and have the same interests. Microlearning enables user autonomy, therefore the students can choose the level they start at and the goals that they set.
  • It works with short attention spans. The typical adult learners can focus anywhere between 3 and 20 minutes, if they’re really engaged. Microlearning solves this problem by providing bite-sized learning opportunities that students are more likely to complete.
  • Procrastination-proof. Ok, there’s no such thing as procrastination-proof, but you’re more likely to procrastinate when you’re faced with a twenty page paper than you are when you have to watch a 3 minute video.

The How

Here are a few examples of microlearning techniques and platforms for foreign languages:

  • Mini-lessons

Babbel is a Berlin-based initiative supported by the European Regional Development Fund. It’s a really great tool for building vocabulary and practicing phrases.

BBC Languages features short lessons in over forty languages.

Mango Languages can be accessed through libraries, higher education institutions and K-12 school. It is also a homeschooling platform for learning foreign languages.

Curious has crowdsourced lessons from native speakers.

  • Podcasts

Slow German obviously allows you to listen to a native speaker reading a text in German at a slower speed. It’s useful if you want to learn clear pronunciation.

Survival Phrases teaches the basic conversation starters for when you’re on holiday.

Daily French Pod is a daily dose of real life French as it’s spoken by native speakers.

There is a long list of free language learning podcasts in iTunes.

  • Video language channels

Deutsch fur Euch is a German channel that offers clarifications on certain snippets of language.

Japan Society NYC has a language videos playlist called Uki Uki Nihon Go.

DutchPod101 has a lot of video resources for learning Dutch.

  • Games

Duolingo is obviously the app du jour, that uses gamification and adorable anthropomorphic owls to trick you into learning a foreign language. It is also crowdsourced but it has strict quality assurance.

BaBaDum is a game with well-designed graphics that help you learn 1500 words in 13 languages.

No matter what resources you decide to use, remember that learning a language does not have to be a “only if I have an hour to spare” activity.

Image: Family with a Microscope by Jacob Ernst Marcus (1784 – 1826).

Language Links: Learning habits, listening skills and foreign beer

Language Links: Learning habits and foreign beer

On Sunday, I publish a list of articles about foreign language and language learning. Let’s keep it fresh!

Are you a serial highlighter? Does your page look like a neon fest when you’re done with it? Do you think this technique really helps you remember more? Think before you highlight and four other facts that will teach you how to learn.

Can you teach an old ear new tricks? Is it possible to learn to distinguish and replicate unfamiliar sounds in a foreign language? It turns out that it is possible, as long as there is feedback. Feedback is an essential ingredient in training our brains to hear new sounds and start to produce them more accurately.

Are you planning a trip to Italy and wondering if you’ll be able to get away with just knowing “Ciao!” You’re not really in luck here. According to the data collected by the Eurobarometer 386, your chances of having a conversation in English while visiting Italy stand at 34%. It could be worse; you could be in Hungary, where only 20% of the population can hold a conversation in English. Czech linguist Jakub Marian compiled a map of percentage of people speaking English in the European Union, divided by country. But, if you want to order beer in the local language, there’s a map for that too.

Speaking of beer (why wouldn’t you, it’s summer), is it pronounced Stella ArtTWAS or Stella ArTWA? It’s Belgian, so ArTWA. Read this list to learn how to pronounce beer names.

Deutsch fur Euch is a Youtube channel that I use to learn little tidbits of German. In episode 42, Katja teaches the vocabulary necessary for talking about your family in German.

Image: From My Studio Window by John Kane (1932) on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

4 Ways the Progress Principle works in language learning

Progress in language learning

Dear language learner, when was the last time you gave yourself a pat on the back for learning two new words?

Surely, you would be proud of yourself the first time you held your own talking about strawberry tarts in that language.

But did you consider that just knowing the words for strawberry and tart meant you were making progress?

According to research conducted by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, you should celebrate every little ounce of progress.

Dr. Amabile, a Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and the author of The Progress Principle, collected 12,000 daily journal entries from volunteers working in seven companies. She analyzed the responses and found that the most powerful driver of employee performance was whether they had made progress on a meaningful task that day.

The progress principle states that people experience a positive inner work life – a sense of accomplishment which leads to increased intrinsic motivation, positive perception and positive emotion – when they make progress on something that they personally find meaningful.

The idea of doing 10 minutes of language practice a day might not seem very productive, but the truth is that you’re more likely to start a task that requires 10 minutes of your time, rather than commit to a one hour task.

We are less likely to procrastinate when the task seems manageable.

Here are four ways to apply the progress principle and Dr. Amabile’s research next time you sit down with a language course:

1. Don’t think in terms of “too small a progress”.

There is no such thing as small progress. There is progress. Eliminate the scarcity mentality of not enough: I haven’t learned enough. I can’t speak well enough. I don’t understand enough.

Regular, minor accomplishments, what Teresa Amabile calls “small wins”, improve engagement and intrinsic motivation, positive perception and positive emotion.

Take a moment each day to recognize and celebrate the progress that you’ve made. You can do this through keeping a language journal, in which you write down the expressions, grammar rules or new notions that you learned. You can keep it simple and just highlight the day on the calendar to show that you showed up and studied something.

2. Deal with setbacks constructively.

In her study, Teresa Amabile found that negative events have a much greater influence on our mood and productivity than do positive events. On the one hand, we minimize our accomplishments, while on the other hand we tend to blow the setbacks out of proportion.

It’s crucial that you don’t let setbacks interfere with your forward momentum. If you missed your practice time one day, or even more, treat it like it’s no big deal, but resolve to do something about it. Avoid shaming yourself into never practicing or trying again. Teresa Amabile writes:

Given the demands of modern work, it is easy to ignore those small steps forward and focus on what still needs to be done instead. Take a moment each day to celebrate and recognize the progress that you, your coworkers, and your subordinates have made each day.

3. Use nourishers to gain and maintain momentum.

A nourisher can be a language teacher, a language coach or simply a community of language learners, be it a classroom or a virtual forum. It makes sense that in such a long-term and high effort endeavor we need a support group for motivation and ploughing through the difficult parts of language learning.

Nourishers directly support people’s inner work lives and include actions like providing encouragement and recognition. Because they support inner work life, nourishers also lead to better performance.

4. Build on progress

When people have made good progress in a task, that could be an ideal time to introduce new challenges. This is because their inner work lives, particularly their intrinsic motivation for the work itself, will likely be high as a result of their success.

The moral here is to always aim for growth in your language skills. It is easy to fall into the comfort zone trap: I know these words so I will only use these words. I can make myself understood just using the present tense, so I won’t bother with the other tenses. I know the right way of saying hello, so there’s no point in learning all the informal ways.

Yes, recognize progress. Yes, acknowledge progress.

No, don’t dwell too long on past progress.

Do you have any good ways to track your language learning progress?

 

Teresa Amabile explains more about the Progress Principle and the research behind it on her website and her Twitter account. I also recommend the interview she did as part of the Truth About Creativity virtual conference with David Burkus.

P.S. More tips about language learning: Why learn another language?

Image: A City of Fantasy by an unknown 19th century artist from the National Gallery of Art

Language Links: French habits, English countryside MOOCs and sustainable economics

French habits, English countryside MOOCs and sustainable economics

Each Monday, I publish a list of articles about language and language learning. Let’s keep it fresh!

5 Things for Adults who Learn a Foreign Language – “Older brains are like the Library of Congress” so we must train ourselves to retrieve information.

5 French Habits that Scare Foreigners – Why you should still speak bad French and how to deal with arguments, weird food and la bise.

Literature of the English Country House – a Downton Abbey kind of MOOC. Be ready to embark on a historical journey through literature and notable country houses through FutureLearn.com, a new MOOC provider based in the UK.

Forbes published an interview with Duolingo CEO, Luis von Ahn. Here are two takeaways from the article:

I believe that to have sustainable impact, you have to have a model that generates sustainable economics. For me the important thing is getting capabilities to large numbers of people who need them—for free—and having a sustainable business model behind that whose monetization strategy is neither exploitive nor is it charity.

We looked at the different theories of language pedagogy when we started out, and we discovered that they’re like diets: There are thousands of them, they’re not well supported by data, and they all contradict one another. But working at the scale of millions gives us the advantage of being able to engineer better teaching methods quickly. For example, we might look at our data and see that a lot of people are having trouble learning how adjectives work. So we posit that maybe we should teach adverbs before we teach adjectives.

 Image: View of the Gardens of Villa Medici by Michel-Martin Drolling (1811 – 1816) from Rijksmuseum.

Should you be fluent or accurate?

Fluency or pronunciation

When you speak a foreign language, what is more important: fluency or pronunciation?

Imagine this scenario: You are trying to have a conversation with two really interesting people. You’re using your native language, which is a foreign language for your interlocutors. Both of them speak really well, but they differ in a couple of ways.

One of them, let’s call him Alex, pauses unnaturally in the middle of a phrase and repeats the same word until he gets it right.

The other one, Daniel, has a fluent speech pattern, but mispronounces a word every now and then.

At end of the conversation, you will realize that it was harder to keep track of what Alex was saying and you might have missed a few details of his story. However, you understood everything that Daniel had to say, even if some of the words sounded a bit goofy.

This is what researchers at the University of Purdue discovered in a study of the perception native English speakers have about non-native speakers of English. Alexander L. Francis, associate professor of speech, language and hearing sciences at Purdue, says:

“With more fluent speech, listeners are not working so hard to keep track of what the speaker is trying to say, so they can devote more effort to figuring out sounds the speaker is trying to produce.”

“With more fluent speech, listeners are not working so hard to keep track of what the speaker is trying to say, so they can devote more effort to figuring out sounds the speaker is trying to produce.Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp
“These findings may sound counterintuitive, but as the speakers with better fluency in this study also received higher subjective ratings of intelligibility and acceptability and lower ratings of listening effort, it suggests that native listeners are better able to cope with divergent pronunciations if they appear within otherwise fluent speech.”Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp

Fluency is more important than pronunciation.

What does this mean for language learners?

1. Stop sweating the small stuff NOW. It does not matter if you stumble on words. Mispronouncing “warm” as “worm” may trigger some smiles, but it’s really no big deal. You will make yourself understood from the context.

2. Jump right into speaking. There are people who study a language for years and never build up the courage to actually have a conversation in that language. Don’t make that mistake! The sooner you start speaking, the faster you will progress in your language learning.

3. Listen intently. The best way to internalize speech patterns is to listen to native speakers. Movies, podcasts, radio stations and news stations are just a few of ways to expose yourself to the spoken language.

 

Image source: Tour Group with Princess of Biscaris by Louis Ducros (1778) via Rijksmuseum

“These findings may sound counterintuitive, but as the speakers with better fluency in this study also received higher subjective ratings of intelligibility and acceptability and lower ratings of listening effort, it suggests that native listeners are better able to cope with divergent pronunciations if they appear within otherwise fluent speech.”Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp
“These findings may sound counterintuitive, but as the speakers with better fluency in this study also received higher subjective ratings of intelligibility and acceptability and lower ratings of listening effort, it suggests that native listeners are better able to cope with divergent pronunciations if they appear within otherwise fluent speech.”Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp
“With more fluent speech, listeners are not working so hard to keep track of what the speaker is trying to say, so they can devote more effort to figuring out sounds the speaker is trying to produce.Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp
“With more fluent speech, listeners are not working so hard to keep track of what the speaker is trying to say, so they can devote more effort to figuring out sounds the speaker is trying to produce.Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp

“With more fluent speech, listeners are not working so hard to keep track of what the speaker is trying to say, so they can devote more effort to figuring out sounds the speaker is trying to produce.Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp