Why learning a language can be difficult
Before we discuss any learning techniques, it is important to understand the learning limitations that we want to overcome. There are several aspects which make learning a new language a difficult and time-consuming task.
The first one is short-term memory. It can affect rote learning, copying and note taking. Pupils need to use a repetition technique to fix new words or grammatical rules in place.
Next, visual perception affects the spelling, checking work and noticing letter patterns.
Sequencing affects letter and word order, conjugation, the order of personal pronouns and preceding object pronouns etc.
Segmentation affects breaking up words into syllables, seeing stems and endings, and breaking up the flow of sounds into separate words.
Auditory perception affects the ability to hear differences in sounds (e.g. le / les, un / une) and where one word ends, and another begins.
Lastly, the hand-eye coordination affects the ability to write clearly and copy accurately.
Generally, learning difficulties such as dyslexia will affect one or more of the factors mentioned above, making the learning experience an overwhelming task for any pupil without the correct learning techniques.
Now that we’ve determined the obstacles that pupils with learning difficulties may encounter when trying to learn a new language, it is time to focus on the techniques what should be used to overcome those limitations.
Vocabulary and grammar are the very foundations upon which language is built. Some pupils find learning vocabulary fairly easy: which indicates they have a very efficient memory or they make a very efficient use of their memory senses (visual, auditory, olfactory). Other pupils find it harder – and need to engage with the material using learning techniques meant facilitate the process. They should be doing reading, writing and listening exercises.
It is important to realise that vocabulary needs to be learnt for five to ten minutes per session. You can increase the time, however, bear in mind that children have a relatively reduced attention span, and can lose interest quite quickly. This is especially true in children suffering from ADD. It is therefore recommended to have plenty short breaks in between learning sessions.
Naturally, young pupils will need an adult to assist with this. It is quite a commitment, but if the child feels supported by the adult, he will be able to do this work independently in the future.
Time after time, research into memory has concluded that repetition is the most efficient way to increase retention. If the learning is not reinforced, new words or grammatical rules will be forgotten in up to 10 days. The image below is a great example, showing the link between repetitive learning techniques and memory retention.
As you can see, repetition learning improves retention rates by four times, compared to traditional learning. However, it is worth mentioning that this learning style works best if performed at appropriate intervals. For example, if you let a great deal of time pass between this and the next revision session, you will likely risk going back from where you started. If done right, revision sessions will become shorter and retention sessions longer. However, as the pupil covers more ground with the new language, make sure you set up more revision sessions. Research shows that learning in small, frequent chunks is more effective in keeping everything fresh in the pupil’s head compared to a massive revision session.
Use your senses
When learning new words, say the words out loud as you look at them. This way, you will engage your visual, auditory and kinaesthetic memory. You should try to over-emphasize the mouth motion when saying the words. This will aid your muscle memory to faster process the movement.
Now that you’ve said the word out loud while looking at it, it is time to cover the word and say it aloud while writing it. Make sure you cover the foreign word so that you remember that one. Check if you have written it correctly. You’ll need to repeat the process if not. If the word was correct, you should repeat this step at least three times. You should do at least 5 words per session using this method. Next, you should read the words aloud as the children are writing them down. Once you’re comfortable with this approach you can also include the word’s article and repeat the same process.
Another technique is to write the definite or indefinite objects in the different colour than the word itself. This way you will begin to associate the genders of the words with colours. An easy way to do this is to write masculine words in blue and feminine words in pink. When you’re comfortable with colour coding, you should move even further and write accents in a bright colour. This will make it easier to learn words that have accents. Additionally, you can use hand gestures to show which accent is on the word.
Create a Rhythm
If you use a rhythm to say nouns or verb conjugations, you will eventually memorise the sound, and a wrong ending will stand out to you. You can also use hand gestures to help you remember verb conjugations better. You can strike a different pose for each suffix, helping you remember using muscle memory as well.
Associate to Remember
You can create links between a French word and the English meaning for example. This is easy to do where a direct correlation exists, but if there is no link you can always invent one.
Generally, something personal or silly will make it memorable. For example, think of Colin Hill to remember that une colline means a hill. You could think of a robin sitting on the tap of an old rusty bath to remember that un robinet means a tap or think of John Travolta Is Not Very Interesting to remember the order of the personal pronouns (je,tu, il etc.).
In order to improve retention on new learnings, you can record words or phrases and then look at them while you listen to the recording, if at all possible. Use the following technique in order to record new words: record the English word first, then pause (allowing yourself time to think of the French word) and then record the French word. You can then use the gap in between translations to say the French word out loud.
After playing the recording a few times, you will subconsciously remember the words. Another tip is to record the words based on their gender. Categorising them will make it easier for you to remember.
Another technique to improve recall is to play the recording while you are asleep. The Swiss National Science Foundation conducted a research on this and said that: “for us, these results are further evidence that sleep promotes memory formation, with the brain spontaneously activating content that it had learnt beforehand. We were able to enhance this effect by playing back the words”. However, it is important to note that you cannot learn new words while asleep, you can only improve your recall on the words you’ve already learned.
Gamify the Experience
Making pocket cards that you can keep in your pocket and look at them at different times throughout the day is a great way to combat the effect of the learning curve. Additionally, you can colour code those cards in order to categorise the words you want to learn.
Lastly, you could make a verb wheel with a card and a split pin in order to facilitate verb learning. You’ll need to cut out a circle of card and a handle. Join the handle of the wheel with a split pin in the centre of the circle. Write the stem on the handle and the endings on the wheel. This can only be done with regular verbs but can also be used for different tenses.
If you want good results and noticeable improvement in your child’s learning, make sure to consistently implement those techniques. You don’t have to use all of them, but we do encourage you to try them all decide which ones work best for your pupils.