The multimedia materials are an integral part of the instructional materials and should never be regarded as optional or supplementary. You cannot ignore the multimedia component of your language materials and expect to learn the spoken language, regardless of the time spent reading the text.

Practice is the key to learning to speak a language. Effective language study is based on mastery of a skill that can be perfected only through practice and more practice! The academic study of “facts” (e.g. analyzing grammar rules, verb conjugations, etc.) is only the beginning to developing proficiency in a foreign language. Although not a perfect analogy, learning to speak a new language is similar to the development of such skills as playing tennis, or playing the piano. It should become somewhat second nature. Therefore, practice is fundamental to the acquisition of basic language skills.

An hour every day of the semester should be thought of as a minimum. Do not concentrate the practice into a few long sessions a week. Practice work requires such intensive concentration that it can only be effectively sustained for short periods of time.

The number of hours per week devoted to language practice will determine your progress. It is important, however, to devote time to your language practice on a daily basis. Practice should be spread evenly over the entire week. Many short sessions, even on a given day, are preferable to one long session. Incidentally, experience has shown that "catching up" on practice, unlike doing so in reading, is virtually impossible. So do not procrastinate. Cram sessions are not a substitute for daily practice.

You should thoroughly master all material in the lesson being studied. Merely reading the dialogues, exercises, and grammar explanations will not accomplish this. In order for the language that you are studying to become automatic or instinctive, it is necessary to repeat all recorded material numerous times, until you reach the point at which the dialogue, exercise, or drill is virtually memorized or “overlearned.” When you can understand and respond properly to all such text/audio materials without hesitation, error, or prompting, you have begun to “internalize” the material. Your ability to control and manipulate grammatical structures and vocabulary will become automatic, and will not require conscious encoding and decoding. Your performance and proficiency are directly dependent on regularity and frequency of practice.

As you practice, remember to repeat everything out loud. You cannot learn to speak just by listening. Silently mouthing the language (or mumbling it) to yourself will not give you the practice or confidence to use the language in a real setting. Learning to speak a language means speaking aloud!

Except for the time required to read explanatory notes on grammar and usage, or unless specifically requested on the practice materials, you should always work with the text closed. The point of the practice work is to train your mouth and ears. While reading along with the tape is easier, it is not as productive — you are letting your eyes do all the work and relying on the text which will not be available when communicating in a real situation. Your practice should be an exercise in comprehension, pronunciation, and response practice, not a reading exercise. As a rule, the text (dialogue or drill) should be read before the practice work, but should not be open during the tape work.

If you have trouble understanding, try listening and repeating several times without the text in front of you. Then, if it is still unclear, refer to the text for an explanation. Do not be put off by differences in pronunciation between the speech of your native tutor and that on the materials. They are both within the range of permissible variation, and you should be able to understand both. No matter what your first reaction may be, the audio is not too fast, and you must be able to follow the material at that speed.

In conclusion, as close to 100 percent of your time as is possible should be spent on the active phases of your work — listening, repetition, and practice, either with the multimedia materials or the tutor. Your goal is to develop linguistic skills, not just knowledge. In language learning, mental comprehension isn't enough! You need to learn to “perform” the language as well!. The grammatical explanations are aids to learning a language, not an end in themselves. Don’t stop when you feel you understand the grammar; stop only when you can use the language fluently. Your ultimate goal is, after all, learning to interact in the language, not learning about it.


Mary Beth Helderle

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