How to Study Languages



~Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Swarthmore College~

  • These classes are intensive - more time-consuming and intensive than in high school. Budget sufficient time and energy for study every day; study when you are rested, if possible.
  • Spend time on the new language every day. Read a word, or phrase, write it; listen to it, say it aloud. Keep a notebook or put flash cards on a keyring. Print the new words and structures in many parts of your brain. Repeat while walking across campus or taking a shower. Spending five hours once a week will NOT pay off.
  • It isn't necessarily fun to memorize new words, but to learn them you have to get them into your memory. Tricks of the trade include flash cards, oral repetition, and memorizing dialogs, short poems and songs. 
  • When you learn a new language, you are creating new connections in your brain AND activating new groups of muscles in your body. You may say, "But I never had to practice my native language like this!" No - because you practice your native language every single day just going about your life. Watch a child learning to talk and see how hard it works (and how hard it works everyone around it).
  • Go to office hours! Ask questions, get ideas. The office hours are here to support you.
  • Create immersion for yourself: attend the language table, listen to streaming radio, watch a movie, read the news online, talk with friends more advanced in the language. Create relationships that happen in the foreign language, so you don't have to overcome habit and laziness to practice. From the beginning, say as much as you can in the new language.
  • Find a language buddy! This can be someone from your own class (who can also let you know what happened in class if you were out sick), or a native speaker. Studying with friends is more fun and more effective, since language is what we use to communicate with other people.
  • Get a tutor! Upper-level students and native speakers are paid to work with you. (Once you're an upper-level student, this might be you: earning money to help other students.)