Student tips: Practicing between lessons

Riding a bicycle, playing tennis, learning to cook, learning a language: the development of any skill requires practice. For languages, there are many ways to practice. Today I’ll talk about a few that every student can do, and should do. And as with anything, “practice makes perfect” – the more you practice, the faster your skills will develop!

First, allocate some time in your daily schedule to devote to practicing your language. I’ll talk more about this in a future post, but it’s very important to dedicate some specific time every day to this skill and not to allow anything interfere with it or distract from it.

Start by reviewing and rereading the material from the lesson. If you have a textbook or received some photocopies, read the pages that were covered in your last lesson. (Don’t hesitate to look at previous lessons, too.) Also reread your notes. This should be done immediately after the lesson, to ensure that everything you wrote down makes sense to you, and will continue to make sense to you when you go back and read it later. Keep a list of anything you don’t understand, and ask your teacher about it at the beginning of the next lesson. (I always start lessons by asking the student if he has any questions; this is your chance!)

Next, take the information covered in the pages and notes you just read, and reproduce it. If, for example, the lesson explored using conditional structures (e.g. “If I won the lottery, I would buy a big house”), then write some sentences using that structure. The important thing here is to make those sentences relevant to your own life. Connecting grammatical structures or vocabulary words to your own personal experiences will help you to retain them better and recall them more quickly when you speak or write.

Finally, practice your speaking. A great way to do this is to read aloud. I usually recommend 15 to 30 minutes per day for language students, and at least 60 minutes per day for diction students. It doesn’t matter what you read: news articles, plays, history books, novels…anything. Just read. And again, keep a list of anything you don’t understand, and ask your teacher about it.

Go to “Follow AD” at the bottom of this page for more tips on how to be a good student!

Jeremy Coffman, English teacher & diction coach, Paris


Student tips: Learning how you learn

Different people learn in different ways, some teaching methods are more effective with certain people than with others, and each student has his own way of understanding, retaining, and organizing information. One of the most important questions a student can answer is, how do I learn most effectively?

As a language teacher, I have explored a number of different methods and had mixed results with each. A key part of my job is finding the right method to go with each student, and to adapt the method if necessary to fit each individual’s most effective way of learning. It’s also important for you, the student, to understand this about yourself; knowing your strengths can help you to define your needs more clearly. For example, if you learn best by seeing a word written before hearing it said, then you should start by writing new words in a notebook. However, balance is a key part of the student’s job: after writing the word in your notebook, say it several times; write some sentences using the word, and then read them aloud several times. This helps to balance your written/visual skills with your oral/aural skills, so you can both write and speak the language successfully.

More student tips to come! Go to “Follow AD” at the bottom of this page to get all posts!

Jeremy Coffman, English teacher & diction coach, Paris

The importance of rules

“Rules were made to be broken.” Some people agree with this idea, and others don’t; but in language learning, sometimes you can have it both ways.

It is very important for both native speakers and language students to understand the rules of spelling and mechanics in written expression, and grammar in all expression. Consistency in these areas allows the speaker or writer to be understood by his audience immediately, instead of leaving the listener or reader to decipher the sentence before being able to respond to it.

In music, the Baroque period was all about creating and following the rules of how music must be composed, in terms of form, texture, rhythm, balance, pattern, etc. The rules were developed because music coming out of the Middle Ages had started to become difficult for the listeners to understand and follow. These Baroque rules changed all that, and listeners became much more engaged by music. The Classical period, which followed, was all about breaking those rules and trying new, creative ideas. But in order for the Classical composers to achieve the desired effect, which was usually to surprise (and hopefully delight) the audience, they had to understand the rules before they could choose exactly how to break them.

Most modern languages developed in the same way. From chaos came order, and creativity followed. This happens in English constantly these days. Writers of all kind, including poets, songwriters, and comedy writers, all participate in manipulating the language to elicit a wide range of reactions from their audiences. An educated audience will recognize when the language is being manipulated and when it is or isn’t appropriate to repeat those manipulations.  For example, you probably shouldn’t tell your client he’s just been “lawyered” or explain at a conference that potential consumers “don’t want none o’ dat”.

I’ll be back soon with more about learning and breaking rules. Get all the posts by scrolling down to “Follow AD” at the bottom of this page. And for now, trust your teacher and your textbook (even if one of them tells you the other one has made a mistake), and before long you’ll be able to bend or break the rules in your own way.

Jeremy Coffman, English teacher & diction coach, Paris