Foreign Language Study Tips

By Kevin Olson

We reached out to Spanish teacher Kevin Olson for some advice about learning a foreign language. Here are his foreign language study tips (some of which can be helpful when studying in general).

  • Always look at the English first (pictures are even better) and then produce the foreign language word. For example, don't look at a Spanish word and then say the English; that's how teachers usually assess students now anyways.
  • When producing the foreign language word, use a three-pronged approach: simultaneously read it, write it, and say it out loud. Do this over and over again until it sticks. Studying is an active process. Don't just "look over your notes."
  • Try different ways to study-- like notecards,, or, my favorite, I also love to create songs and rhymes to help with rote memorization.
  • Study in short bursts of 10 minutes with no distractions. I ask my students to study Spanish before starting any other homework from other classes. Learning a language will work best when your brain is fresh and not fatigued after a long day of thinking about other information. Hydration and snacks are important too!
  • After a 10 minute study burst, take a break and do something else.
  • Return to the foreign language practice and self assess (speaking and writing). It's important to self assess after a break (not after having just studied the information) to see if you really remember the information, and it's not just in your short-term memory. Be honest with yourself. What do you really know? What do you partially know or not remember at all? Focus on your weak areas in subsequent 10 minute bursts until you think you are familiar with everything. Keep repeating this process every day, self-assessing, and focusing on the weak spots.
  • Reach out for help! Meeting with teachers outside of class usually yields a positive response.
  • Most importantly, try your hardest to maintain focus in class. Participate! Take notes! Most of the learning should happen in class. However, because learning a language is such a tough workout for the brain, students sometimes "zone out" and miss important opportunities to practice and learn new information with their teacher and peers.