Tips for Successful Language Study

1. Set realistic expectations

It is natural to feel uncomfortable in a language class. You’re used to being in classes where the mode of communication — the language of instruction — is a given. Learning to express yourself in another language with different vocabulary, sentence structures and cultural differences can be difficult at times. Not understanding and making mistakes are a very natural part of the language learning process. Accept the fact that you will not understand everything. In fact, at the very beginning, you will not understand much at all. Remember that during the initial period of adaptation your brain, ears and mouth are all adjusting to the sounds and the rhythm of the language. Remember that the only way to learn the language is through practice, practice, and more practice.

2. Break study time into smaller chunks and use effective strategies

Research shows that you learn most effectively and remember more when you study frequently and for shorter periods of time. Five minutes a day is more helpful than waiting until you have a test or exam. Try to study each day, and whenever possible, several times a day. For example. Do a few homework exercises each day rather than doing all homework assignments the night before they are due. Aside from homework, there are many otherwise “idle” moments during the day when you can work in some studying.

You can review vocabulary while eating breakfast, recite the vocabulary or hiragana while showering (or even draw them on the glass), count your steps as you walk between classes, name as many object as you can in Japanese on your way school, take your vocabulary flash cards with you on a road trip. There are many apps available for mobile phones for practicing hiragana, and several flash card apps as well where you can create your own vocabulary to study. Flashcards are an excellent way to practice vocabulary – use them in both directions, from Japanese – English and English to Japanese. Repetition and frequent practice is very important, especially as you add more and more words to your vocabulary. If you study consistently, you won’t feel panicked when it’s exam time.

3. Study actively!

Whenever possible, speak the language aloud rather than saying it silently to yourself. Say vocabulary words out loud, read passages aloud, do pronunciation activities out load and not just mentally. Write out the answers to activities rather than gliding through them in your mind. Read aloud entire sentences in an activity rather than just reading a fill-in response. Transferring language from your mind to your mouth is a skill that requires a great deal of practice.

4. Do your homework!

Homework offers you a golden opportunity to practice your language skills in a deliberate manner. When doing your homework, you have the luxury of time. Look up words you don’t know. Refer to your book, ask your teacher or use the internet if you need help. This will reinforce the material and eventually it will become automatic. If you never look things up or simply guess, you will be learning mistakes and you will find it difficult to unlearn them and relearn the correct words or sentences. Read teacher feedback on homework and ask questions and seek help when necessary. Maximize the usefulness of your homework to your learning.

5. Identify your learning style

Each person has his/her own learning style and everyone learns at a different pace. Try not to get frustrated if someone else in class seems to be progressing more quickly than you. You might find that you have a knack for grammar but have difficulty with speaking. Or you may find that you understand things perfectly in class, but when it comes to the homework assignments, you feel lost. Strive to identify your own personal strengths and let these help you in your learning process. If you are a visual learner, for example, write things down and try to associate words with images. At the same time, strive to identify your own personal learning barriers and make efforts to overcome them. For example, if you tend to be quiet in classes and often refrain from participating, force yourself to sit at the front of the classroom.

6. Spend time on task

Use your class time wisely. If you pay attention and do your best in class, you will find the homework easier, and your book a much better resource as it will be up to date without any gaps.  If you finish an activity early, work on the next homework sheet, or review your notes and quiz yourself on vocabulary.

7. Communicate with your teacher

Take responsibility for your learning. Communicate with your teacher about any problems that may be interfering with your learning or any specific difficulties that you are having with the material. Seek help immediately when you need it. You might be surprised how easily such difficulties can be resolved. Also, be proactive about making up missed work. Not only your grade, but also your success at learning depends on it.

(adapted from