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How to Succeed in Your Language Courses

Hello in foreign languages

Learning a Foreign Language Successfully in College

Your success in learning a foreign language will depend on the amount of effort you put into studying.  If you organize your time wisely, you can become proficient in a foreign language.

Learning a language as an adult is an attainable goal although it requires commitment on your part.  You will need to study, memorize and practice consistently in order to become proficient.

Remember that you will be taking college level language courses, which are more rigorous than most high school language courses.

**As a rule of thumb, you should dedicate a minimum of 1 hour for every hour of class.  Although it may sound like a lot, it is the minimum to help you become proficient in the language.**

Syllabus

At the beginning of every semester you will receive a paper or an electronic course syllabus, which specifies course goals, required texts, expected outcomes, requirements, policies and a daily/weekly program.  You are responsible for reading and understanding all the information provided on the syllabus.  Programs do not waive or exempt students from the policies stated on the syllabus.

You should check the daily calendar to prepare for class every day and do your homework on time.

Preparing for class

You must prepare for each class based on the information provided on the syllabus.  Read the information that will be presented in class for the day.

Relax!  You are not expected to understand every word that is been uttered by your instructor, especially at the elementary levels.  At the early stages, instructors will use body language, mime, drawings and other means to help you understand the most important aspects (the gist) of their message.

The material instructors are presenting and practicing with you is exactly what appears in your textbook in English.  If you prepare every day for class, you will be able to follow the instructor regardless of the language s/he is using in class.

Studying

Use the language actively.  Besides learning the rules governing the structure of the language, mastery is acquired by actively practicing those rules.  This will require that you express your opinion in every class, either in oral or written form, in front of others.  You cannot wait until you feel you know everything perfectly or understand everything that is being said.

Organize your time in daily review sessions.  Avoid sitting for 4-5 hours at once; you will soon get tired, bored, and confused.

It may seem that the semester presents a lot of vocabulary.  However, everyone is capable of learning it.  The key is to practice old and new vocabulary regularly in speaking, listening, writing and reading practices.

Make a habit of writing questions about your homework assignments if you do not understand a concept or exercise.  Ask them in class, through an email to your instructor or during your instructor’s office hours.

Think in terms of presentation, practice and performance:

  • Presentation  means reading and analyzing the important parts of the lesson in question.
  • Practice    means learning, i.e., knowing, not “recognizing”, the forms and when to use them.
  • Performance    means being able to use the forms in real question and answer formats or in conversation.

You can prepare flashcards with vocabulary  (nouns, adjectives, verbs) to review vocabulary however, this is not enough.  Create sentences with those words that are related to the communicative goals of the lesson.  For example, you are learning the numbers to be able to give and ask for personal information thus, create questions and answers that require using the vocabulary for asking this kind of information  (which includes numbers but also interrogative pronouns, nouns, verbs, etc.).

Study groups help many students to stay on top of the material covered in class.   Set up a study group early in the semester and meet regularly to review old and new material.

Most programs have online resources to further practice and prepare for tests and quizzes.   Use them regularly.

Classroom practices

All courses are taught in the foreign language to maximize the attainment of proficiency in the language.  This is one of the many differences between college level courses and high school classes.  As mentioned above, instructors will use mime, body language, pictures and other visual cues to convey meaning at the start of the academic year.   You are not supposed to understand everything that is said, but the gist of the message.

Instructors vary on their approaches to teaching grammar, for the most part we use an inductive method whereby we practice vocabulary and grammar throughout the class without necessarily stopping to examine individual grammatical rules.

In order to learn the grammar you will have to memorize rules and paradigms, but more importantly practice grammar in meaningful contexts.  That is, you have to apply the rules to create phrases in a given context (e.g. using formal commands to get directions).

There are different approaches to error correction in the foreign language classroom. Do not be embarrassed by corrections.  Be aware that not all mistakes will be corrected always.

You will be asked to draw comparisons and contrasts between the cultures you are studying and your own.  You are not expected to adopt the new culture, but to understand it and, more importantly, to respect it.

Attendance

Attendance is an essential part of your learning experience.  For most of you, class time will be the only time in which you will be immersed in the language, so make the most out of this opportunity.

If you are not in class, we cannot assess your mastery of the material for the lesson thus, you cannot receive a grade for the day’s work.

If you must be absent, you must communicate with your peers to make sure you know what was covered for the day you missed and what was assigned for homework.

Help

If you need help studying beyond what a study group or a visit to your instructor can do, you should get a tutor.  Information on tutors is available in the department.

Ask for help.  If you are having difficulties in the class, you must communicate with your instructor immediately (after class, during office hours, or via e-mail).  If the problem persists, communicate with the course director.  Do not wait until difficulties escalate into problems.

Prepared by Language Coordinators in Romance Languages and Literatures.