“Take a couple of minutes each month to reevaluate your learning process. Think about your motivation for learning, your learning style, and reflect on what language learning techniques are (and aren’t) working for you.”
Your monthly evaluation doesn’t have to be anything formal. In fact, it helps me to think of it as a quick check-up. I ask myself:
- What did I learn this month?
- How have I improved and what do I still need to work on?
- What are my (current) strengths and weaknesses?
- What language learning techniques are helping me improve?
- What language learning techniques aren’t working as well as I had hoped?
I have language goals, as I’m sure you do, and I want to reach them. So, it helps to make sure that I’m heading in the right direction. If I’m doing something that isn’t working, I want to know sooner rather than later, so I can stop wasting time on it and figure out something that works better for me.
Tip in Practice (True Story)
I once had a friend who swore by flashcards – for everything! I had never used flashcards to learn a language, so I wanted to give them a shot. I bought these colorful little index cards, and spent an entire month copying every vocabulary word from my textbook onto a card color coded for each part of speech.
My thought was: After they are all done, I can go back to each one as I reach the chapter.
The reality was: Once I finished them, those 300+ flashcards never made it out of their very cute little boxes.
Following Tip #1: What I would have done differently…
A better approach would have been to figure out what I wanted to get out of flashcards. Then to write a chapter worth of vocabulary words, pause, and then ask:
Q: What did I learn from the process? A: How to write the characters and some of the vocab.
Q: What are my strengths and weaknesses? A: Some of the words were neat and others sloppy. Hmm… maybe I should slow down and learn how to write some of these characters as I learn the words. I can ask my teacher about the strokes for (fill in the blank word).
Q: What have I improved on? A: Recognizing characters.
Q: What do I need to improve on? A: My penmanship and memorizing more words.
Q: What about writing on flashcards worked? A: Even if I didn’t remember how to pronounce the character, I could usually associate the character with the meaning (almost every time).
Q: What didn’t work? A: The way I color coded didn’t really help me. Perhaps, if I rewrote the vocabulary and grouped the words by theme instead of parts of speech…
The result: If I had stopped to ask those questions, I would have realized that flashcards were actually a good system for me, but that I needed to tweak the process along the way. I would have also released that I needed to spend more time developing my penmanship.
Eventually, I did learn these lessons. I bought books, software, and worked with my tutor to help my writing. But, I also (unfortunately) gave up using flashcards for years before I started using them again. If I had taken the time to “Know Myself” and reevaluate the method, I would have worked on my writing sooner and been smarter about finding a better flashcard system.
- Lets you reassess and evaluate your language goals on a regular basis
- Makes it easier for you to experiment with new language learning techniques
- Helps you weed out the “bad techniques” from the “good techniques that I’m not ready for yet”
- Allows you to catch mistakes or problems early on
It takes too much time. Wrong! It actually saves time. 15 minutes once a month or at the end of each lesson set could save you hours (or weeks) of doing something that isn’t helping you improve.
I don’t know how to answer the questions. Ask your teacher or language exchange partner to go through these questions with you. They listen to you every week, day, etc. If they’re any good, they should be able to point out your problems and tell you what you already do well.
I already know myself. You might. But remember even dentists know to x-ray patients who brush and floss regularly. It’s always possible that the patient missed a spot and ended up with a cavity. Even if you think you’re doing well, there could always be something that you are missing and could be doing even better.
- Personalize your check up questions.
- Make them specific to goals that you have.
- Make them objective or quantifiable. (How many new words did I learn?)