Language learning, vocabulary and Vygostky

Here’s the final post in our five part series to guide you through some of the key terms you need in your language learning vocabulary.

T is for Travel and Teaching

One of the best ways to stay motivated to learn a new language is through travel. People, place, culture, they are all experiences you can live and learn about through the lens of your new language. When you travel to a new country, you’ll be immersed in authentic language, and more importantly, given the chance to interact with native speakers. Travel can inspire you to connect with language outside of the classroom and find words and phrases you’d never otherwise have encountered. Imagine that first moment when you step off the plane and both understand and are understood by everyone around you. There’s nothing more exciting for a passionate language learner!

U is for Understanding, Use and U-Shaped Learning

Understanding what you hear and see is no easy feat, and there are more steps in the process than you might think! For written and spoken language, first you have to decode the letters and actually hear the phonemes. Next, you need to know where one word stops and the next one starts (also called parsing). Finally, there’s the step of actually making meaning out of the language you’ve encountered using both prior knowledge and whatever you can gather from the context in which the language is delivered. U-shaped curves may sound more like a diet plan than a language related term but they actually describe the process of learning a rule, experimenting with it (and making mistakes) and then understanding the exceptions and applying it without error. This is a process language learners all go through as they acquire grammar. Learn more: Understanding, Language-Use, U-Shaped Learning

V is for Vocabulary and Vygotsky

Vocabulary is not just about lists! Funnily enough, most learners don’t realize that they are actually building two vocabularies as they pursue language study: a productive one and a receptive one. The vocabulary that you can say and write is typically much smaller than the amount of words you recognize in written or spoken form. Have you ever heard of Vygotsky? He famously developed the Sociocultural theory that held learning as an inherently social act whereby learners acquire new knowledge via a zone of proximal development.

W is for Words

Words are the building blocks of language (thus this post on language learning vocabulary). Without them- we’d have nothing to say! That’s not to say we couldn’t conceive of an apple, only that the label for it would be missing. When you start to learn words in a new language, your brain needs to construct a network in which to house them. Until you have enough of them, it simply stores them alongside terms that sound similar or have the same meaning.

Language learning basics, reading to speaking

R is for Reading, Review, Realia and Repetition

We’re all about reading and there’s a good reason for that: It’s one of the most important language learning basics and the best way to expand your vocabulary’s breadth and depth. It also exposes your brain to new constructions in the language you’re learning. The more you see and learn, the more new words, phrases and structures you can integrate to improve speaking and writing. At the same time, the more you read, the faster you will become as a reader and time is power in reading. Used alongside a spaced repetition review system, reading is also a great way to exercise your vocabulary and make sure it stays active. So, what should you be reading? Realia of course! If it is written by native speakers for a native speaker audience, then you’ll be in good hands as long as you keep a dictionary by your side. Make sure you select something of interest to you (try newspaper articles) and don’t forget to focus on reading for gist AND specific detail.

S is for Speaking, Strategies, Skimming & Scanning

Say something out loud and hold a conversation in your language, even if you’re just talking to yourself! Speaking is one of those language learning basics that’s  a sure fire way to enhance  ability. Talk about what you see around you, verbalize your thoughts and just get comfortable putting words together. If you activate the pathways of fluency, they’ll be there when you need them in conversation. No matter what skill you are targeting, strategies are a must. Check out a blog (like ours) for tips and tricks to get more out of the language learning activities you are already undertaking. Skimming and scanning are just two examples of approaches that can help you up your comprehension.

Language learning skills and more

L is for Listening, Lexicon and Learning

Surely you know everything there is to know about listening– but did you know that us crafty humans don’t always process words in the order in which they are spoken? Unlocking language learning listening skills means understanding how we make meaning out of spoken language. The mental lexicon is mammoth– all of the words you know with each language a separate but connected network.

M is for Memory, Motivation and Monitoring

We have both short and long-term memory storage in our brains. Language has to first make it into working memory before it can move across to more permanent storage. Because learning a language can be hard, it’s important to stay motivated. Did you know there are two different kinds of motivation: integrative and instrumental? No matter how fluent you become in a language, you will always be a learner –even of your native tongue!  So keep an eye out for gaps in study because keeping your language learning skills honed is very important. Speak more confidently in a language by not over monitoring what you say. Learn more: Memory, Maintenance, Monitoring

N is for Noticing and Native Speakers

Sure, we can acquire language unconsciously through exposure to target language input. But, it really helps to notice what you’re learning. If you pay attention to the patterns, you can internalize them in less time and get better at reproducing them. When it comes to the Native Speaker standard in language learning, there is still quite a lot of debate. How close should a learner’s pronunciation come to native? Intelligibility is key. 

P is Productive Skills and Phonics

Speaking and Writing are considered productive language learning skills because they require you to actually use the language you’ve learned. Did you know you have different words in your productive and receptive vocabularies? Often, the amount of words in your receptive vocabulary is much larger. Phonics, or mapping sounds to letters, is actually a crucial skill for improving reading comprehension.

Language learning goals to immersion

G is for Goals, Grammar and Glossing

Everyone has language learning goals, but making sure you know exactly why you’re learning a language and setting clear goals about what you hope to achieve is key. While it’s up for debate whether or not grammar can be explicitly taught, the more exposure to authentic content you get, the greater the chances grammar will be acquired. Glossing is a reading strategy that can up your comprehension.

H is for Hard Languages and Habits

Some languages are definitely harder than others. Do you know what makes them hard and how you can be successful learning a “difficult” language? Following the habits of the Good Language Learner is a start. Modeling the behaviors of others who employ successful strategies can help you stay motivated too!

I is for Individual Differences and Immersion

No learner has the same language learning goals nor the same set of strengths and weaknesses. Each of us is impacted by a variety of factors commonly referred to as “Individual Differences.” Knowing what kind of language learner you are can help massively when it comes to using strategies more effectively. And it doesn’t get much better than immersion when you’re trying to learn a language. That’s because immersion ensures you are surrounded by target language input, that you see words over and over again, in context, and that you have plenty of opportunities for interaction with native speakers. 

J and K are for Just Kidding, let’s stick with I

The Intermediate Plateau is a common term used to describe the difficult journey from intermediate to advanced proficiency in language learning. Once you’ve mastered the basics of a language (its grammar and most frequent vocabulary), it can be hard to motivate yourself to achieve that most coveted of language learning goals: advanced proficiency. However, acquiring a more nuanced and native speaker-like vocabulary is the solution. And how can you achieve stellar results in terms of vocabulary breadth and depth? By collecting words from context of course!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top