Making Supplemental Materials Work for You

Language courses, with instructors and a set curriculum, are something that most language learners are familiar with. But continuing to engage with the language outside of or after a class can be a difficult task for students. Classes focused on the basics of a language may not cover the elements some students need to know, and they may struggle with maintaining their knowledge of a language after the class ends.

How do you find the right materials? What kinds of materials should you use? How can you get the most out them? How do you stay engaged and not get bored or stop improving? Whether you’re looking to improve your language skills for a class, work, or just for fun, here are some tips to help you get the most out of using supplemental materials:

Know Thy Learning Style

Everyone learns differently and with the multitude of apps, programs, and resources available, there’s something for everyone. See what’s out there, and find a supplement that works best for your learning style and piques your interest. If gaming is your thing, check out an app that utilizes gamification, such as Duolingo or Busuu. If you’re into flashcards, there are apps available that use Spaced Repetition Software, such as Lingvist and Memrise. Language learning doesn’t have to be a solo affair, either. Find a conversation buddy and offer to do a language exchange: teach them your native language in exchange for help with theirs. If you find it difficult to dedicate a lot of time to pouring over language materials, try five minutes here and there throughout the day.


Target Your Weaknesses and Build Your Strengths

Everyone occasionally encounters plateaus when learning a language; improvement slows down, or stalls completely, and it is easy to become discouraged with the language acquisition process. In those instances, breaking out of stagnant learning patterns and seeking out different ways of interacting with language materials can help shake learners out of a rut. Authentic materials are a great way to avoid or overcome this issue! From listening to podcasts or breaking news, to reading opinion pieces, beauty blogs, and tweets, or even singing karaoke, there are infinite ways to have fun and combine your hobbies with your language learning experience.

But don’t just focus on the language elements you are comfortable with — move outside of your linguistic comfort zone and target your weaknesses. Do you find Russian motion verbs, Hindi postpositions, or Chinese tones difficult or uncomfortable? Actively seek out ways to interact with those elements, and challenge yourself to use them as often as possible, rather than trying to talk around them. You’ll soon find those pesky grammar points or difficult sounds become second nature.  


Clarify Your Purpose

The methods and materials used in learning a language are important, but behind the “how” of language learning is more important than the “why.” Your motivation for learning a language (Why this language? Why now?) can be used to help tailor your language learning experience and direct you towards relevant, meaningful methods or materials. It is easier to remember vocabulary, cultural information, and grammatical concepts, when they relate to your interests and motivations. As suggested above, supplemental materials that pique your interests can go a long way towards tapping into your language learning motivation. Try listening to Real Madrid soccer matches to improve Spanish or Abdel Halim Hafez and Umm Kulthum to connect with your Egyptian in-laws.

Maybe your motivation is less concrete than soccer matches or trips abroad; the language may be required for work or study, for instance. Consider how your language learning contributes to your overall goals. If Spanish will make you eligible for a promotion or pay bump, or if you’ve dreamed of getting a job abroad, keep that goal in mind while you study. See if you can spend some time each week learning the tools you’ll need to discuss work-related topics or converse with clients, or find relevant trade journals to read. Try and tie what you’re learning every day to your long-term language goals.

Finding ways to maintain or improve your language skills, and stay motivated when you do, can seem like a daunting task. But, with a little bit of reflection on your goals, interests, and learning style, you can find ways to build your skills, and even have fun and make friends along the way. So, get out there, and get learning!