Learning Tips: Practice What You Learn

I have a confession. A few years ago, I took a French class. I did all the assignments. I took the tests. I made an “A.” But right now, even if you cornered me in a dark alley and threatened to take away all my Snow Patrol albums, I would not be able to say more than five sentences in French. And most of those would be along the line of “How are you?” and “Where is the bathroom?”

What happened? It wasn’t the teacher. It wasn’t the class. It wasn’t even my fault. Well, not entirely. You see, I knew while I was taking the online course, I was missing out on one crucial aspect of learning a language: I wasn’t practicing speaking it in regular conversation. And we even had a student worker in the library who was a native speaker and would have been more than happy to speak French with me. But I was too embarrassed about my ‘Southern’ pronunciation of French words and my having to think and translate the word I wanted before saying it. So I didn’t practice, and I still don’t know French despite that credit on my transcript.

So learn from my mistake. You are only going to learn what you practice. Athletes know this. They think nothing of practicing skills for hours to make sure those moves are automatic in the game. So do musicians. A friend who plays for the symphony practices at home before going to work where the orchestra practices some more. I’m not sure why we are so slow to follow their example in the academic world because it works.

So if you’re studying a foreign language, take every opportunity to practice. Speak with your classmates or with anyone who will agree to speak with you. Keep a journal in the language. Read books. (I started with children’s books and am now reading a French version of a book I’ve already read in English to keep the frustration level manageable.)

If it’s math, practice those problems. Don’t stop when you’ve got one worked out. Work some more. Get to the point when solving them is automatic before you move on to the next skill.

If you’re having trouble, go back and find the spot where things start to break down. Then get that under control before moving on.

Whatever subject you’re trying to learn, make it a daily habit to review and practice those skills. There’s no substitute for regular practice. And if I’d practiced a little more in class, I would be able to make that point in French.





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