Practical Tips for Learning a Foreign Language

Learning a foreign language can be started in two ways: through speaking and through reading. The first path (if you have the opportunity to choose) is more suitable for people with good mechanical memory, good hearing and imitative abilities (especially children). The second way may be more pleasant to people with good logical memory, a tendency to logical thinking, analysis and comparison.

But no matter where you start, you still need to master all types of speech activity: speaking, writing, understanding, translation. I will try to answer two questions that are most often asked by my adult students: how to learn words and how to “talk”, to overcome the barrier of constraint.

To learn words effectively, you must first learn how to use a dictionary. Having restored the names of the Russian parts of speech in memory, learn these names (and their designations) in English and do not look for the meaning of the word in the dictionary until you determine which part of speech it is in the given text. Pay attention to the icons n, v, adj, adv, сnj, pg, etc.


Further – three “not”:

  • Do not look at the words in the dictionary “as a list”, without context. Lazy students think that they save time in this way: wrote out all the unfamiliar words from the text, then looked them up alphabetically in the dictionary – and that’s it. There is as much benefit from this kind of work as from surrendering “thousands.”
  • Don’t write out the first meaning of a word; look at other meanings, phraseological combinations with this word – and choose the meaning that is suitable for the meaning.
  • No one gets used to scanty, so-called “miniature” dictionaries. There are very few good ones among them – even when evaluating suitability for beginners. You should strive to quickly switch to monolingual explanatory dictionaries (without giving up good bilingual dictionaries). (If only a beginner – forget this advice).

So, you wrote out the word (or just looked in the dictionary). How can you keep it in your memory? It depends on the properties of your memory and how you use it. Study yourself, see in what conditions the words are remembered better by you. Some people like cards that you can carry with you, transfer from pocket to pocket, put aside what you have learned, etc. Others prefer to write out words on large sheets of paper and hang them at home and even at work. This is a very good way, but you have to be vigilant about yourself. With words, you should build phrases on your own, the sheets need to be changed, after a while you return to them again to check memorization. If the sheets are just hanging, you will very soon begin to look at them as wallpaper (are you sure you remember the wallpaper pattern in your room well, although you have been looking at them for several years now?).

Get to know the rules of word formation. Then, by looking at one word in the dictionary, you can form (or recognize in the text or speech) a few more words of the same root. For example, knowing the basic derivational suffixes and prefixes, you can form moving (adj), moved (adj), unmoved (adj), movingly (adj), move (n), movement (n) from the verb move.

If you are faced with the task of quickly and purposefully increasing your vocabulary, create families from words on any one topic (housing, food, travel, etc.). Another very good, albeit time-consuming, way: come up with a sentence with a new word (or expression), say it out loud several times, tape yourself, listen to yourself after a while.

In general, writing yourself down (reading a text, tongue twisters, a story on a given topic, retelling, etc.) is extremely useful – and very revealing. No one knows your strengths and weaknesses better than you yourself – in everything!

Study material (textbooks, workbooks, all kinds of exercises) must be yours. You should write translations of words on its pages, underline articles, prepositions, idiomatic expressions, highlight combinations that you especially like or find difficult to remember. The educational text should breathe with your thoughts, your work. You can always return to it, and associative memory will allow you to remember many other things related to this word or expression.

As for the sacramental question: how to stop being afraid to speak, how to “untie the tongue” – the answer is simple: talk more, talk, talk more, no matter what. Easier said than done – “easy to say”, you say. Of course, giving advice is always easier than doing it yourself. But I have no other answer to this question.

Much here depends on the conditions in which the language is taught, but the main thing is you yourself. When a person already knows the language a little, the age-old dilemma of fluency versus accuracy arises – the need to choose between fluency and correctness of speech. If a person is not ashamed of his pronunciation, does not think especially about grammar and choice of words – he speaks fluently enough, achieves understanding using facial expressions, gestures – and makes a large number of all kinds of mistakes. His speech can be terrible to the ear, but on the other hand … No one will be able to communicate with a person who thinks painfully for a long time about what time to use and what pretext to put before the last noun, even if in the end he squeezes out grammatically correct phrase.

How to be? As in many other things, a compromise should be sought, a cross between fluency (but not uncontrolled) and correctness (but not so tortured). In our country, this problem especially often turns into “either – or” due to insufficient real opportunities for foreign language communication and a particularly strict, I would say, prosecutorial attitude towards mistakes. We are scolded and punished for mistakes. They rarely forgive. These traditions are also felt in the teaching of foreign languages. The zealous teacher will stop the student two or three times in the course of one phrase, correct, make him repeat, sometimes instead of the student he will repeat himself – what a coherent speech here, especially fluency!

Look for your own path, individual ways to reveal your capabilities, but always try to optimally combine your knowledge of the language with your speech skills. Good luck and success!