Overcoming Learning Lags: World Languages

Many of our students returned to in-person learning after having a remote or hybrid learning situation since March 2020. At Green Ivy Educational Consulting, we’ve noted increased anxiety and stress around math (particularly upper level math), writing, and world languages including Spanish, French, and Mandarin. This is the first in a three part series of strategies to support students as they navigate this school year.

In many cases, virtual learning environments prevented students from learning the fundamental vocabulary and grammar needed to absorb more advanced concepts when learning a foreign language. Without class time to review the basic “building blocks” of the language, students need significant support and practical strategies to stay caught up in their current classes. 

We have seen these strategies work effectively in the last year and a half, and we hope that they provide stress relief and a sense of control!

1. Review Core Vocabulary

In order to effectively understand and build sentences in another language, some level of fundamental vocabulary understanding is key. For example, even if we understand how to conjugate verbs, we’ll need to understand the vocab surrounding those verbs in order to use them correctly. 

The best way to learn vocab is to create lists of unfamiliar words and create ways to self-quiz. Using paper flashcards is an ideal strategy. A good place to start is the textbook, which should have sets of new vocab every chapter or so. After completing nightly homework, write down any unfamiliar words in a notebook and look up their definitions in a dictionary. Use a physical dictionary or explore online options, including WordReference for Spanish learners.

Building a solid base of vocabulary doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s absolutely achievable with time, patience, and consistent practice. As a rule of thumb, try to spend at least 10 minutes per day reviewing terms from your flash cards.

2. Catch Up On Key Grammar 

Grammatical rules and patterns are crucial to learning languages. They often serve as the connective tissue that allows us to string words together into sentences. To make new content seem more manageable, it’s useful to review the basics. 

First, keep a running list of concepts in need of consistent review. Then, search up those concepts either in a textbook or online, and do as many practice activities as possible. Friends or siblings might have introductory language course resources, and borrowing their textbooks to review grammatical concepts from previous years could make for a worthwhile refresh.

3. Make it Fun!

The best learning occurs while you’re enjoying yourself. 

Fortunately, there are so many ways to access and practice language skills through cultural sources, including music, movies, TV shows, books, and articles. 

Consider choosing world language shows every once in a while (with or without English subtitles) to practice listening skills. Likewise, queue up a world language playlist on walks or rides to and from school, practice, or work. Unsure of where to start? Ask your language teacher for some song, film, or TV recommendations.

Language learning is all about immersion: it helps to use entertainment media to become surrounded with the language and its cultural gems.

4. Keep it Manageable

To fill in gaps in your language mastery, we recommend relying more on habit than on inspiration. In other words, a quick 10 minutes of review on a daily basis is actually more productive than long, intense, irregular study sessions. 

One way to build momentum is to use free language learning apps like Duolingo. Many apps allow for a customization of daily commitment — 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, etc. — to suit your needs. Although these apps will not make you fluent in your chosen language, they can certainly supplement a study routine by teaching new vocab and encouraging consistent practice.

5. Know Your Digital Textbook

Many language courses include a virtual textbook with lots of video tutorials, written lessons, vocab lists, and practice exercises. We recommend spending 20-30 minutes simply exploring the options on your digital textbook. These are often equipped with resources for whenever a student needs to review or practice new concepts. Often there are many extra exercises, and sometimes a self-testing component.

It’s especially important to practice the listening activities — using online textbooks to practice listening skills is a great way to compensate for the lack of in-person instruction over the past several years.

We hope these strategies provide relief and confidence in the coming months. Remember: the most important part of learning a language is consistency. What methods are you or your family using to boost language proficiency? As always, we’d love to hear your feedback.

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