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.

Can You Learn a Language as an Introvert?

I wish my students asked me this question more often. Then, I would tell them about all the ways in which learning a foreign language as an introvert is not only possible, but it can become enjoyable. About ways to turn your introversion into a superpower. About ways in which you can connect with others while still being true to your self.

I’m sharing eight ways to be a successful introvert learner on the Learn Out Live blog.

And yes, I reveal a few of your introvert superpowers. It’s up to you to discover the rest.

Energy Intelligence

Smart Language Learning  - Energy Intelligence

The theory of multiple intelligences, developed by Howard Garner,  is well-known among educators and learners. It states that we all are equipped with a different combination of “intelligences”, and this combination is what enables us to learn in a specific manner. Garner first outlined eight categories of intelligence, later used by teachers to convey the information to learners: visual, kinesthetic, musical, linguistic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic. He later added existential (spiritual) and moral intelligences to the list.

Loosely connected to Garner’s theory – in its use of the notion of intelligence – is the concept of energy intelligence. I came across it in this article by Josh Allan Dykstra. Based in strengths assessment theory, the energy intelligence is aimed at measuring what energizes a person, rather than what they’re good at. Being good at something does not necessarily imply that we also feeling energized by that thing. For example, you may be fairly good at math in school, but after an hour of working on math problems you start feeling drained and miserable.

The question is: does applying energy intelligence theory work in language learning?

I believe it does, and the reason is simple.  As human beings, our actions are often dictated by our emotions. We don’t feel like learning when we get back home from work, so we don’t. We feel bored when we’re struggling with vocabulary drills, so we stop. Too often when we’re learning, we focus on what we think we should master rather than on directing our attention to what makes us feel energized and joyous.

When you’re energized, you get things done without really feeling like you’re trying. Trying would also imply some sort of resistance, an effort to stay busy or feel productive. Feeling energized, similar to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow, is based on the assumption that you do your best work when you’re feeling at your best, while going with your will, not against it.

There are a few things that you can do test out this theory and take advantage of it.

1. Pay attention to what energizes you when you’re learning or focusing.

Is it writing down ideas? Is it freewriting? Is it doing audio lessons? Is it practicing new expressions out loud? Create an “energizing log” and write in it whatever activity you’re doing when you feel at your best without feeling like the effort exceeds the reward.

2. Make sure that you’re energized by something you’re actively pursuing.

Sure, I feel great when I listen to smart people being interviewed on podcasts. But that’s not a product of my brain. My brain just processes information. It does not reflect or act on it. I’m taking that a step further by noticing that I’m also energized when I’m brainstorming and wordmapping around the concepts that I’ve discovered on the podcast.

3. Enable energizing activities.

Enabling good habits is crucial in forming good habits. A simple example would be placing a glass of fresh water next to you if you want to get into the habit of drinking more water. By seeing the water, your brain will be triggered into feeling thirsty and wanting to drink. The fact that the water is readily available eliminates the effort and enables you to take action.

Similarly, we can enable energizing learning habits by making it easier to get into an energizing state. That could mean simply having a dedicated spot or a dedicated ritual for that state.

4. Use energizing activities to get started.

If you know that something feels good, gets you in the flow and helps you get work done, start with that something. Start with it even if it doesn’t connect immediately with what you should be doing. Starting a project is, very often, half the battle, because it builds momentum. Momentum is a learner’s best friend.

5. Use knowledge of what energizes you to get back on track.

You can use energy intelligence to your advantage when you need to refocus. If you find yourself procrastinating and dreading to get back to the work that you were doing, it helps to remind yourself how energized you feel when you’re actually doing it. Again, trick your brain into re-starting (your conversations, your learning sessions, your reading, your classes) and it will only get better from there.

Original image: L’Energie Moderne by Georges Hugnet (French, 1906 – 1974) from The Met online archives

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

Language Links: Lingua.ly web app, easy Thai videos and how to talk nonsense

EasyThai German Greetings and talking nonsense in a foreign language

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

Lingua.ly announced the launch of their web app this week. Lingua.ly is a cloud-based language learning technology that is mostly based on vocabulary building. Simply put, you install their Chrome extension, choose the language that you want to learn, and go about your business browsing the web. When you come across a word that you’d like to remember, you click on it. Lingua.ly translates it into your target language and saves it. You can then review your list of visual and audio flash cards. Their new platform also recommends content based on your level, creates personalized exercises and draws from gamification theory.

Do you think that you’re talking nonsense when you speak in a foreign language? If you don’t, but you’d like to, there’s an app for that. MuchPhrases equips you with the weird sentences to impress your quirky friends in Spanish, Norwegian and French. I always thought you should aim for foreign language phrases that make sense, but then again it might be easier to break the ice with gibberish. On that note, “I bought these shoes from a wizard.” Here is the story behind the app.

Take advantage of a slow summer and advance your language skills. Here are 15 ways to practice a foreign language this summer via the Transparent Language blog.

Want to know how to say “hi” and “bye” in German? Here are 22 ways to greet someone in German.

Learn Thai through easy YouTube videos via the WomenLearnThai blog.

 

Image: The Golden Bend in Herengracht, Amsterdam by Gerrit Berckheyde (1671 – 1672) from Rijksmuseum.

P.S. Language Links: French habits, English countryside MOOCs and sustainable economics through language learning

Learning a language is like traveling

Traveling and language, Norfolk Virginia

As summer closes in, this morning I was thinking about traveling.

I love the anticipation of traveling somewhere. Even the planning. I don’t like being on the road, but I like that sense of possibility when you get out of the car in a new place and you try to take everything in: the sights, the smells, the air, the way the wind blows.

Then I noticed this quote staring at me from the spine of an AFAR magazine:

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Isn’t this what we’re doing when we’re learning a new language? The anticipation of finding out a new way to express a thought or a desire; the way the mind races to see what you can do with a new word; the feeling that it will reveal a world unknown.

I like the planning of language learning too. The laying down of pencils if you’re old school – red is for feminine nouns, green is for masculine, purple is for neuter. The logging into the app. The points, the lingots, the levels.

That feeling when you get out of the car and take in a new place. That feeling at the end of the session when you know three more words. What can you do with three more words in a foreign language? The possibilities are endless.

 

* I took the picture on the waterfront of Norfolk, Virginia.

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

Are you clear about “the why”?

Like any plan worth pursuing, learning a foreign language has to have a reason behind it. Whether you are motivated by a promotion, a pay increase, a romance with a native speaker or simply wanting to travel, you should find the why behind your desire to learn a language.

Finding the why is easy when the desire is extrinsic, like in the examples mentioned above.

But what if none of these things applies? What if you just want to learn for the sake of learning or because you’re simply attracted to a foreign culture and you’d like to know more about it?

That is perfectly fine, but the motivation is harder to sustain.

What you can do is this:

On the first page of your language journal or notebook, write the reason. For example, I really like Mexican soap operas or I just found out that learning a language can delay the onset of Alzheimer by four years.

Under the reason, give yourself five secondary reasons to fall back on when your motivation starts to wane. Let’s say you also think that maybe you’ll travel to Mexico or Spain some day. Or learning kanji might improve your drawing skills. Maybe you’re a graphic designer and you think Arabic type will spark your visual creativity.

Brainstorm secondary reasons. Don’t stop until you think of at least five.

The point is this: at every stage in the learning process you must have clear reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Here are a few reasons that can drive your language learning journey:

  • get in touch with your roots. Do you have foreign ancestry? What was your Italian grandma’s favorite storybook as a child? Can you read it in its original language?

  • read a recipe in its original language;

  • explore your own country’s ethnic neighborhoods;

  • understand movies and music without the filter of translation;

  • be perceived as knowledgeable by others; yes, showing off is a valid enough reason if it makes you happy;

  • give your brain a workout;

  • improve your memory;

  • increase the network of people you’ll be able to communicate with;

  • gain a better understanding of the world and global politics;

  • understand your own culture from the perspective of an outsider;

  • get better in a debate;

  • become more comfortable in unfamiliar situations.

The point is this: at every stage in the learning process you must be clear about the reason you’re doing this. Why are you investing time, energy and possibly money in this? You don’t need to have grandiose goals. You don’t need to read Voltaire in French after just one year of studying French. If you can read Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, then that is a goal worth pursuing.

Photo by Sue Clark

Your language or your morals

Does language influence moral decisions?

Very much so, according to a study by researchers at the University of Chicago and Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

They posed the question: would you choose to push one person off a bridge in front of a moving train, knowing that his fall (and subsequent death) would stop the train and prevent it from running over 5 people. In other words, is one life less precious than five lives?

The researchers collected data from 725 participants in France, Spain, the U.S., Korea and Israel and found that more participants selected the utilitarian choice when the problem was presented in a foreign language rather than their native language. “Those using a foreign language were twice as likely to respond with the utilitarian approach that is more in the service of the common good of saving more people,” said lead author Albert Costa, according to Science Daily.

“Deliberations at places like the United Nations, the European Union, large international corporations or investment firms can be better explained or made more predictable by this discovery” states Costa.

Why is this important? Because as actors in a globalized world, we rely heavily on interactions in a foreign language. Do our emotions take second place when we think in a foreign language? Are we distancing ourselves from the consequences of our decisions? Is decision-making influenced by the words we use to describe the dilemma, and not by the dilemma itself?

Keysar says decisions appear to be made differently when processed in a foreign language.

“People are less afraid of losses, more willing to take risks and much less emotionally-connected when thinking in a foreign language.”

Co-author Sayuri Hayakawa from the University of Chicago, says that the emotional context in which we learn a language also plays a part in the decision.

“You learn your native language as a child and it is part of your family and your culture,” she says. “You probably learn foreign languages in less emotional settings like a classroom and it takes extra effort. The emotional content of the language is often lost in translation.”

It may be important to ask how well the participants understood the dilemma in a foreign language (not bilingual, but foreign).

Were they focusing on understanding the language or just solving the problem?

Do the words used in the explanation have exact correspondents in the foreign language?

Is the dilemma processed in the same part of the brain when it’s presented in a foreign language?

 

Image source