Effective language learners make plans. Learner plans are very much plans you might make to get fit or to save up some money. The principles are the same.
Your learning plan is an agreement with yourself to commit to your language studies. It doesn’t need to be grand, it can and probably will start small. But you do need one. As you grow in your language studies, so will your plan. Your plan will help you :
Decide on achievable targets
Keep track of what you have done
Reflect on what works for you and what you enjoy
Help you develop the confidence and capability to manage your own learning.
Language learning is not always successful. Sometimes we make good progress and sometimes there’s really not progress. There are many possible reasons for the stops and starts we experience when learning a language. What’s important is that we try to understand why are not making progress! In short, we can improve how we learn by thinking about how we learn.
Think about an independent learning activity you recently completed. Consider:
What worked for you?
What didn’t work?
What you would do differently next time?
What you enjoyed doing?
This process of stepping aside from our learning activities, pausing and thinking about how we are learning is called ‘Reflecting’. Experienced language learners do this automatically. However, if you’re not used to this practice, it may be a good idea to try reflecting on your learning in writing. This could be a journal or a blog.
Read this reflection about learning new vocabulary. Look at the different stages the learner works though.
I know I need to improve my vocabulary because I often don’t have enough words to express myself. This week I used newspaper articles to help me learn some new words.The first article I read was about the student protest in Hong Kong. I understood most of it and this made me feel good. I used my dictionary to check the words I didn’t know. However, some words in the dictionary had several meanings and I found it difficult to find the right one. This was frustrating! I realised that I don’t really know how to use a dictionary. The article was quite long and there were many words I didn’t know. I tried to check them all but this took a long time. So I decided to only check words that I had seen before, but didn’t understand, and to guess the meaning of others. When I learnt new words at school, I would make a list. In fact, this doesn’t really help me remember vocabulary at all! This time I wrote down the original sentence from the newspaper and then tried to write my own sentences. I tried to use several new words in one paragraph. I enjoyed this. I also tried recording my paragraph on my phone so that I can listen to it on the way home. I know from the dictionary that words have a meaning but I also need to think about the grammar around the word (eg. enjoy do+ing something). I’m going to try to find out how to use the dictionary more efficiently and think about other ways to record my new vocabulary.
Identify a problem
Focus on +ve experiences.
Identify a possible solution
Reflect on past learning – successes & failures.
Consider new approaches.
Think about the next step
Through reflection, this learner has become more aware of what she can already do well, gaps in her knowledge, strategies that work for her and what she needs to do next. This learner has taken charge of her own learning; she is working at her own pace, setting her own goals and reflecting on and evaluating her progress.
If you’d like to find out more about reflective language learning, speak to an ASLLC language advisor.
Successful language learners are aware of their language proficiency levels. They know what they can or cannot do in language they are learning and set goals and make plans accordingly.
Think about your own English language proficiency. What can you do comfortably in English and what would you like to be able to master? You can think about this generally in terms of skills (reading, writing, listening or speaking) or specifically in terms of tasks you would like to be achieve, such as deliver a convincing academic presentation.
Evaluating your own language levels will thus help you set goals and monitor your progress. A useful tool to assess your own proficiency level is the Council of Europe Framework of Language for Reference (CEFR).
The framework is organized by skill listening, reading, speaking and writing. You can download the framework HERE .
First choose the skill you wish to work on and then find the description which best describes your current language ability. What can you comfortably do, when writing, for example. Next, look at the next level up and think about what you would need to work on to move up to a higher band. Doing this may help you set goals.
If you’re preparing to take the IELTS exam, you can use the public descriptors for the writing and speaking tasks to start evaluating your language levels. This will help you orient yourself towards the requirements of the task. You can download the descriptors below.
Writing Test 1
Writing Test 2