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Study Tips for Languages Other Than English

By Celene Palmero in HSC
4th of February 2020
Study tips for languages other than English

It’s no secret that learning a language is hard – especially during the HSC. It requires many things, such as many hours of one talking to themselves, watching numerous foreign films that we claim is ‘for studying’ and listening to a robotic voice repeating the same word, over, and over again until you can say it perfectly. 

But it’s undeniable that studying a language transcends simply being a 2 unit subject. It’s a rewarding subject to study, but also a difficult subject to study. So in this article, I’m going to recommend some study tips that people have recommended to me, and study tips that I personally engage in!

 

1. A Mindset Change

When looking at learning a language, regardless of whether it is during the course of your study or not, you are bound to look at the dialect with your mouth agape. You may even take one look and already be one foot out of the door, ready to sell the textbook you just bought for it. 

It’s easy to look at a language and be daunted by it, afraid that you may never even learn the most basic words. But it is by overcoming this state of shock that we can begin. 

Remember that a language is based on centuries of culture and people – and that it is constantly growing, meaning that it is nearly impossible to ever learn an entire language. Take some time to learn about the culture, if you please, learn some catchphrases and pretend you’re a tourist. Be interested and invest your time into learning more than just the language. Because throughout your course of study, you will be cultivating this skill for however many years you choose to – make sure you enjoy it!

 

2. How to Practise

What’s difficult about learning a language is that it isn’t like any other subject. There isn’t a formula you can just apply, nor is there a list of techniques that you can choose to analyse. It isn’t as simple as copying down what your teacher wrote.

A language consists of four aspects: listening, reading, responding and writing. Each of these areas, for some people, have to be done in a number of different methods. But for some, it can only be one or two methods. 

Every language is unique; some have characters, some are the latin alphabet, some put the verb at the start of the sentence, and so on and so forth. What is most important is that you are able to study effectively. 

 

3. Vocabulary Lists

This is one of the most recommended study tips I have received from teachers and high-achievers. For them, it is highly effective and helps with all aspects of a language.

Firstly, I recommend giving a title like ‘Adjectives: Body Parts’ or ‘Locations/Facilities: School Setting’. I find this really useful as, over the course of your study, you will find that the syllabus only needs you to learn a certain number of words. But if you decide to continue the subject, they often come back to that area of vocabulary and expand on it much more.

Then, I would suggest that you begin with two columns, the left with the English translation and the right with the language equivalent. 

Learning a language through HSC

In this image, I have three columns as I’m not very skilled in learning kanji. If you’re like me, or are just starting out, I would recommend doing this, or even adding more columns that have the pronunciation in English. I personally find it really helpful and easier to read, especially when you haven’t studied in a while! 

But I do have to say that this isn’t my go-to study method as I am more of an auditory learner. So don’t fret if you don’t like the sound of this method, you are definitely bound to find yours!

 

4. Applying (A.K.A. Speaking) the Language

Now, this tip is easier said than done. And I know it sounds super annoying to learn how to speak a language by simply speaking it. But there is no way to sugar-coat it. If a task requires you to speak, you will have to practise your responses. 

I recommend asking your teachers or friends for questions that you could be asked in your exam or assessment. There is always the option of making them up yourself, but I personally like getting surprised and having to improvise. 

Once you have some questions, feel free to take some time and write down a couple of words that are applicable to that question. However, if you’re just starting, then I would recommend writing down complete sentences. But keep in mind that you should try your best to be as fluent as possible and not reading your sentences in a monotone voice.

When finished, begin your conversation with them, and improvise! Before actually answering the question, you could consider some small talk about the weather, or introduce yourself. Throughout the entire conversation, you should aim to use all of the words you have written down. 

Personally, I take this time to play with the grammar and structures a lot. This is because in every speaking or writing exam, your markers will really be looking for a number of structures. This is what really gets you in the higher marks and sets you apart from other students, so I definitely recommend this!

Another thing would be working on your fluency. Think about how you would reply to someone in English. You may have some pauses every now and then, a few ‘um’s’ and ‘uhh..’s, but other than that, you end up saying what you want to say. I would aim for that level of fluency. And the best way to know that you’re being fluent is by asking the person you are speaking to, or recording yourself and listening to it. 

And the recordings may make you cringe (been there, done that), but it’s totally worth it. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be making your seventh recording and you already sound fluent.

 

5. ‘Studying’

Now this may be my favourite method of them all: watching foreign films. I know, I know, it sounds like a scam to make you watch my favourite anime (which is Death Parade, in case you’re curious), but I promise it works! 

But before you run and grab the biggest bag of chips in your house, I’d recommend a film that captures the culture, or at least has some level of realism (which, I suppose, Death Parade does not…). The reason for this is because when you choose a film, you’re much more interested and more likely to finish this ‘study session’. But also because watching characters interact with one another in a different language gives you a glimpse of what formal and informal conversations are like. You could even pick up some vocabulary or sentence structures too. When you’re comfortable enough, you could even watch a film without subtitles. It sounds impossible, especially because it’s during your course of study in the HSC, but I’ve had some friends that could do it, so you could too!

And last but not least, it gives you an opportunity to say that watching a film unrelated to school ‘study’.

 

Now I could give you all the study tips in the world to get that top mark, but tips aren’t going to improve your grades, nor are they going to make you suddenly fluent. So if you haven’t gotten the hint, here it is; make mistakes. Fail, and fail again. Do whatever it takes to improve and accept that you may not always get 100% in every single quiz. Like I said before, learning a language is hard. Do not be afraid to make mistakes – that is how you improve, even if it is in an assessment. 

So go out there and make as many mistakes as you can!

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