Accelerate your learning

Beyond traditional homework, what can language learners do outside lessons to accelerate their progress?

By Sarah Howarth

Language learning is an ongoing and incremental process; it requires long-term commitment from you, the learner. In between lessons, your language-training provider should support you to maximise your exposure to the language and to use it as much as possible in your everyday and business lives. So, beyond doing traditional homework, what can you do outside of lessons to accelerate your learning?

Steep yourself in the spoken language

Listening is the first and most important step towards language acquisition. As often as possible, make time for listening. Your trainer should help you to select material that is suited to your level or a little higher to stretch your vocabulary and skills. This may include real-world content such as songs, movie trailers, radio, podcasts, news programmes and audio-books in your target language as well as material produced specifically for language learners and adapted for particular ability levels. In time, you will be able to watch talks, TV and movies, initially perhaps listening only for gist and inferring meaning from visual context. Software is also available to add subtitles to real-world videos to support comprehension.

Dedicate time to building your vocabulary.

Little and often is the best approach here. Carve out small slots of time in your day and devote it to memorising new words and chunks of language. Flipping through your vocabulary flashcards on your daily commute counts. So does pinning a list of new vocabulary to your mirror each week and reviewing it while brushing your teeth! Focus on high-frequency vocabulary (words that are used commonly in speech and writing) as well as vocabulary that is relevant and meaningful to you and your work so that you can start using it straightaway and accelerate your progress. Reading is an excellent way to build vocabulary. Ask your teacher for reading recommendations appropriate for your level.

Find a sympathetic native speaker to practise with. In fact, find many.

The more friends and colleagues that you can converse with, the better. Practise as much as you can to activate the grammar rules and vocabulary you are learning. Practising in real-life situations can be particularly effective so take advantage of business travel to practise with everyone from taxi drivers and hotel staff to business contacts. And don’t be afraid of making mistakes: that’s how we learn.

Devote time to writing and grammar practice.

Writing allows us to take our time when formulating language. This helps to reinforce the language you are learning. Beyond traditional grammar exercises (although these are helpful too!), your teacher can set homework assignments that are relevant to your area of work and interests. For example, a learner working in Human Resources might be asked to draft a letter announcing an organisational restructure using clear and tactful language. Similarly, a learner doing a specialist presentation-skills course may be required to write a Powerpoint pack. Even assignments for beginners can be personalised. You could be asked to email a hotel to book a room for upcoming business travel or write a short thank-you email following a business meeting. Assignments should be meaningful and engaging, and trainers should give specific and constructive feedback to learners to guide and encourage improvement.

Follow the signposts.

Blending face-to-face training with digital learning can be extremely effective, and a vast array of language-learning websites, self-study programs and apps are available and allow learners to study on the go. Your teacher’s job is to curate this material and signpost you to the best-quality content. For example, there are websites devoted to bringing news to language learners with articles adapted for different ability levels. You can use software to create your own digital flashcards to help you learn vocabulary. There are also free language-learning online platforms that use engaging imagery and games to assist learning.

Have fun with the language.

Learning by doing and playing can be very effective and help boost motivation to study. There are many many games that language learners can play from online hangman, to Scrabble with fellow learners.