It is late Sunday evening and I have just read the
reminder that it is my turn to write the weekly feature. I panic slightly,
wondering what brilliant piece of writing I can turn in that will both
interest and benefit the students. I realize that as a student of languages
myself, I may have some worthwhile advice so here it is. Besides grammar
books and in-class lessons, I find there are several other tools to learn a
First and foremost I suggest students throw away their
translators and two language dictionaries. Studies have shown that when a
certain level of proficiency is reached, translating an unknown word into
ones own language does not help in learning that word and in fact it may
To learn words I recommend asking a teacher, a classmate,
or anyone close by since a verbal explanation is more likely to be
remembered than any other method. And wouldn’t you rather speak to another
human being given the chance?
Secondly I recommend watching television, going to the
movies and listening to music. I recently visited Brazil and am eager to
become fluent in Portuguese. I have not been fortunate enough to attend
classes to learn but I do credit the entertainment industry as one of my
teachers. From watching Brazilian soccer or the many soap operas playing
nightly on television I tuned my ear to the sound of the language and
learned many common idioms.
Also I strongly feel that learning a language is not
simply learning grammar and vocabulary but one needs to expose oneself to
the culture of the country; popular music, film and television are ideal
Lastly and probably most obviously, I urge students to
speak. Speak before class, after class, and during break. Speak to your
neighbours, the store clerk, the bus driver or anyone else who’ll stop long
enough to listen. Two and a half hours, four days a week is not enough time
to master a language. Take the time and calculate approximately how much
time you spend on average per week learning English. I then suggest you try
to double this time.
While in Brazil my friend who spoke English insisted that
we speak Portuguese so that I could improve my skills. Although at times it
took twice as long to say something or to understand what she wanted to say,
my Portuguese improved greatly in a very short time.
Although this may not be the brilliant piece of writing I
imagined when I first sat down to write, I feel that I am somewhat qualified
to give advice as I truly understand the frustrations of not being
understood or not understanding what is going on around me. Staying in one’s
own world, speaking one’s first language, or translating will not facilitate
I urge all students to make the effort to break their
current routine (if it’s not working) and start speaking to strangers,
watching television shows or listening to English music and most of all I
urge you to throw that translator in the garbage!!!
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