Just knowing English won’t take you far these days as everyone is expected to know how to speak it. English has achieved the status of a lingua franca and it is often regarded as a civil skill, much in the same way as using the internet. It’s therefore not very difficult to justify why it’s worthwhile having versatile language skills and developing those skills further. Having a second language in your back pocket is a real advantage. For example, it will help you stand out in the job market. It increases your professional options and opens new doors in searching for information. However, what should you do if you already have the basics but you feel like you are stuck, or if your language skills have weakened after years of not using the language? Follow our tips for breathing new life into your language skills and take them to a new level!
1. Make the most of all your senses when learning
Some things we remember by seeing them. For example, it might be easier to remember what you’re reading with the help of an image on the same page. If you’re more of a visual person, try using colours and pictures in your learning. For example, categorise words according to subjects and colour code the groups. If you want to take your visual learning even further, create your own learning material! Working with, processing and internalising information will help it stick. Draw a concept chart for the grammar you have studied and from which you can easily see the most essential concepts. In this way, even learning the dreaded subjunctive will be straightforward! If you’re good with handicrafts, create memory playing cards with new words on them. Gamification has for a long time been a huge trend in learning. These days, there are also different kinds of learning games you can download to your mobile device. For example, give Memrise, Duolingo or Kahoot a go.
Also make use of your hearing in learning. Listen to natives speaking and pay attention, for example, to how they sound. Record your own speech and compare it with the pronunciation of native speakers.
2. Follow a foreign language media
Do you spend your evenings surfing online? Make the most of the time you spend on social media. For example, find people you are interested in and follow the way they communicate. This will also teach you informal language.
Do you concentrate best when listening? The internet is overflowing with podcasts and YouTube videos. Think about how you can combine your daily activities with learning a language. For example, search for a DIY video in a foreign language or make the most of your commute to work by listening to a foreign language radio channel or by watching your favourite series or vlog. By being in regular contact with a foreign language you will promote the growth of your vocabulary.
3. Build your vocabulary
Having command over your vocabulary is one of the most important areas for language skills, regardless of your level. The size of your vocabulary is closely connected with language comprehension skills. The larger your vocabulary, the better you will understand written language. According to current thinking, a reader needs to recognise 98 per cent of the words in a text written in English to understand it. For example, when reading an English-language novel, you need around 8,000 word families (a word’s inflected forms and derived forms), whereas when watching a film such as Frozen you will need only around 6,000 word families.
In addition to passively following a foreign language TV programme, formal study of vocabulary is required for the new words to stick. Good methods for learning words are tasks for recognising and producing words. Words should also be used actively so that they are not forgotten. The expression “repetition is the mother of learning” applies regrettably well to the building of vocabulary.
4. Give your motivation an extra boost
In language learning, as in all kinds of learning, motivation plays a big role. The more motivated you are, the more effective your learning will be. According to self-determination theory, motivation is categorised as internal and external motivation. Internal motivation comes from within and is guided by one’s own interests. Among other things, this type of motivation dictates how meaningful you perceive your learning to be. External motivation, as its name suggests, is linked to external factors such as good grades or social acceptance.
Internal motivation often carries you further and produces better results. It is not, however, wrong to give your learning a boost with the help of external motivation. Create for yourself milestones and reward yourself when you reach them. Decide, for example, that after learning 50 new words you’ll treat yourself to a nice reward. To motivate your learning you can also test your language skills at specific intervals. For example, the free Dialang test is great for testing your language skills.
5. Refine your learning technique
What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Therefore, try out different learning strategies and memory techniques. Grammar and spelling rules are easier to remember when you create your own rules for recalling them. For example, the old English rule of thumb for spelling “I before E expect after C” is certainly familiar to many. Remembering words is also easier when you create a mental image for them based on their meaning. For example, Finnish learners of English will undoubtedly remember the English word for kesäkurpitsa, zucchini, by creating the mental note, “suu kiinni” (“shut your mouth”)!
You can find more tips on improving your language skills here. If you need a little nudge in improving your language skills with the help of a trainer, our training coordinator Laura will be glad to help you find the best option to meet your needs. Please contact us if you want to hear more about our services.