While most people generally find lessons to be the best way to learn a language, attending classes alone is rarely enough to yield the desired results. So for this month's Lang4Life blog, we're looking at some effective ways to study out of the classroom.
Every year students from all around the globe suffer the same old problem: they go to class, learn some new language and then fail to practise that language until they return to the school a week later. It's a bad habit that many of us regrettably fall into.
Even in cases when we do attempt some self study, it can often take the form of a resentful look at badly scrawn notes from the previous week. What can be done to plug this language gap then?
Here's a mere five ways that languages can be practised out of class:
Use self study books
Self study books, whether they be grammar or vocabulary focused, are a practical way to solidify what was learnt in class or to iron out anything you didn't catch during a fast-paced lesson.
When it comes to English, I've always found the Vocabulary In Use series useful, while grammar books such as English Grammar In Use, Grammar Scan, Grammar for IELTS and Grammar for CAE/Profficiency also come in handy. If you are learning another language don't hesitate to ask your teacher, who will no doubt have a recommendation or two on what you could buy.
There are three main brick-and-mortar language learning bookshops in Wroclaw: Columbus, Polanglo and the International House Bookshop. All of these bookshops are located in the city centre and have a reasonable range of books on the shelves for you to browse and choose from. At each shop you can also order several other titles not on display.
Another option is to swing by one of Wroclaw's Empik branches, where you can find a modest selection of vocabulary and self study books.
For the digitally minded, the dubiously legal englishtips.org has an enormous database of titles available to download for free in pdf together with the corresponding mp3s and interactive dvds.
Try some e-learning websites or apps
Nowadays e-learning is all the rage of course, which is little surprise given all the technogical inovations that have taken place in the last decade or so. Provided it suits your own personal learning style, e-learning can prove to be a very satisfying and even additictive way to study out of class.
From CD and DVD roms to websites and mobile apps, there's a variety of options available on the e-learning market at the moment. As regards mobile apps, be sure to check our previous blog entry, which reviewed five applications available for Android and Iphone.
For websites, I find the very basic englishpage.com more than sufficient for grammar learning. The webpage contains descriptions of all the key language rules and descriptions, which are all complimented by a test to guage your understanding of the grammar.
A more fun gap-fill activity can also be found in the shape of lyricstraining.com, which students can use to develop their listening skills by typing in the missing lyrics to their favourite songs while they listen to tracks on YouTube.
Again, when it comes to other languages, be sure to ask your teacher for some tips on e-learning possibilities.
Attend anguage meet-ups
Quite frankly, there's no better way of practising a language than by actually conversing in it. Therefore attending one of Wroclaw's regular language meet-ups is a great way to practise what you've learnt during your lessons.
Thursday evening's Tower Of Babel is the best known of the lot, however there is also a Wihajster meeting for German speakers, a French meeting, as well events for Spanish speakers at the Spanish library.
You do nonetheless have to be careful with such meetings, as the level of the speakers might not match up to your skills. If the level is too high you'll be lost, while a low level group could see you inadvertantly picking up other's mistakes. So be sure to test the water before you commit to attending every week.
Set up a language exchange meeting
Another option for practising speaking is to set up a language swap agreement with a willing partner.
One place you can do this is on the Wroclaw Language Exchange Club Facebook group, which has got thousands of members from all over the world.
Finding a good partner for a language swap can prove tricky however, and you may find yourself getting a raw deal if you put more effort into the partnership than your opposite number. The fact that no cash is involved does make the experience pretty much risk free, but also reduces the incentive to attend. This in turn can cause one party to cancel or reschedule more often than not.
On the other hand, if you happen to find the right person, a language swap can very much bear fruit and work out nicely for both sides.
Absorb more media in your target language
Last but not least, another way of absorbing yourself in the language you are learning is to read, watch or listen to different media. There are various ways to access such media depending on what language you are looking for.
When it comes to tv, many Polish pay-tv packages contain English language channels such as CNN, BBC World News, Russia Today, France 24, Al Jazeera, BBC Brit and Travel Channel. You may also find Spanish, Portuguese and Italian channels on various pay-tv packages too. Internet streaming is another option, with sites like filmon providing live streams of tv channels in many languages.
For video on demand services, you can also check out our handy guide here.
English language magazines can be purchased in Empik as well, although they do cost a fortune. Exceptions to that rule are the language learning aimed 'English Matters' and 'Business English Magazine'. A useful resource for English teachers or language learners, the two magazines include Polish translations of difficult words and interesting articles on up-to-date topics. The content of Business English magazine is rather obvious, while English Matters is more suitable for teenagers and budding University students.
Podcasts are a fun way for your students to absorb some English too, and the team at BBC Learning English release new recordings every week on their website.
On top of that, you can of course read the international press online. For those looking for news on Poland in English, there are websites like thenews.pl, Inside Poland, the Krakow Post and the Lodz Post.
Stay tuned next month for another edition of our Lang4life teacher blog!