Feb 8, 2010

More Ways to Learn a Foreign Language

One of the most popular topics covered here at the HippoCampus student blog is the process of learning a second language. In past posts, we’ve covered some of the benefits that come along with multilingualism, as well as a few methods to consider when pursuing such a talent. This week, we’ll take a look at a few other ways to learn another language.

With the advent of social networks, it should come as no surprise that cyber-immersion is good way to go for a bit of conversational practice. Some sites, like voxswap.com, actually specialize in bringing together like-minded language learners. Becoming a member is free, and in a few minutes you could be browsing through a cornucopia of possible pen-pals. There are even brief video lessons for some supplementary viewing. Of course, it might be a good idea to join such a site with some baseline skill in your target language, as the initial communication barrier will be rather big. Of course, with the right teacher, you might be able to start anywhere. You never know until you look.

Media consumption can also be a huge help. The next time you watch a movie, try switching on the sub-titles for a real-time translation to follow as you are entertained. Other possible supplementary sources include television, talk radio, music, books, news, and even comic strips- if it’s in a language that you wish you knew, try to understand it!

Vocabulary-building is critical to confidence in communication. Try signing up for a word-a-day email, or write down any words you don’t understand to look up later. You could also try pinning small notes with translations for household objects throughout your home. This way, every time you go to the fridge, you’ll be reminded what the word for “refrigerator” is in your target language.

It’s important to remember not to be afraid of making mistakes. While communicating in a perfect accent with flawless grammar is a great goal to have, it will take a while to get there. But like most things, if you break the task into smaller goals, you’ll have more fun and learn faster. Don’t be afraid of looking silly if you stumble through a conversation- most people will be delighted to see you trying to learn their language, and will probably take steps to help you out. Just keep practicing!

Feb 1, 2010

More on Homework

In our previous post, we covered a few of the basics when it came to homework, including recognizing “burnout”, finding the right place to work, and getting others involved in the daily schedule of assignments. We’re back this week with more in-depth information and a few other ways to simplify school stuff that follows you home.

Like we said last week, the work environment is crucial if you want to cruise through homework. A few symptoms of choosing the wrong space includes: distractions, not enough room to spread out your books and papers, lighting, and lack of comfort. Take ownership of the right space and make it yours- put on music that helps you study, organize your materials at arm length, bring in lamps, put out some brain food to keep you going, and shut out anything that might interrupt that next brilliant thought. Think about the best position to study- math, for example, might take a rigid chair and desk to keep the brain alert and focused. Lying down on a bed would probably make you sleepy, but attaining that dreamy head space might be perfect for writing poetry. Use your environment like a set of tools to control how your brain works.

With the right space ready to go, it’s time to get to it. It can be tempting to get into the easier stuff first and put off the harder material for later- don’t get sucked into that mindset. If you get the harder stuff done first, you’ll have more energy to quickly finish up the easy stuff at the end. This will help you avoid burnout and give you energy to spare for post-homework activities.

Focus on getting stuff done quickly, but make sure you don’t blur the line between finishing an assignment and cutting corners. There’s nothing wrong with getting it done fast, as long as it’s done right.

For example, you may want to speed-read through a few passages. However, the faster you read, the less material you are likely to absorb. The fix is to write down notes as you go so you can look back later and remember what was covered. This way, you’ll be much more involved in the material, and also have a resource for future quizzes and tests.

Spend a certain amount of time on an assignment- if the teacher says it should take 15 minutes, don’t bother spending an hour on it. If you aren’t picking something up in class, ask your teacher to go over it again. Odds are someone else in the class didn’t understand it the first time either. Remember- homework is just practice!