School has started and many children are facing their first formal lessons in a second (or third) language. These early days are the best time to start those great study habits which will stand them in good stead in the years to come, and hopefully save you a lot of stress and tutor fees in the future!
1. A vocabulary book. Way back when I was at school (not quite as long ago as Queen Victoria!), we had vocabulary notebooks. These were brought out for every lesson and we carefully noted down the new words so we could learn them for our weekly vocab test. Schools and learning methods have moved on but I still recommend one of these as you can take it with you from year to year, it gathers all the useful words together by topic and the teacher will never deprive you of it while they mark your homework.
How to set one up? It’s fairly simple – buy a notebook (an A5 one will do and they are not expensive). Fold the page down the middle, lengthways, so that you have two columns. Write the title at the top and then the target language in the left column and your home language in the right column. Bingo. If you are tackling a short topic such as numbers, then one or two pages will do. If you think the topic may end up as a long one, for example food, then leave a spare page or two so you can add extra words later.
Important – when writing down your new words make sure you include the gender and the plural if it is a noun, details if it is irregular, the past participle if it is a verb and any other useful information. As one example, German has three different genders for nouns and you definitely don’t want to have to go back and re-learn them all in time for Year 11 exams! You could try highlighting them in a different colour for each gender.
2. A grammar folder. There will be lots of grammar concepts to learn in the new language. These will probably come in steady dribs and drabs over the next three to four years and believe me, it is a real pain having to flick through old exercise books from several years ago in order to find something.
How to set one up? Buy an A4 folder, in whatever colour you like, and a set of dividers. Each time you learn a new grammar concept e.g. the present tense, adjective endings, word order etc you write it up onto a sheet of paper. Use highlighter pens, underlining, diagrams or whatever seems appropriate. Then file it in your folder under an appropriate subject heading e.g. “Tenses”.
3. Sticky Notes. Whether you use them for your shopping list, or to leave messages for the family, sticky notes are a common sight in many homes. Whether you get plain yellow ones, coloured ones, funny shapes, or the ones which look like speech bubbles, they can be fantastic for vocabulary learning. The obvious idea is to label the items you are trying to learn e.g. “door”, “table”, “toaster” but you could also just write any other word that you need to learn and then stick them up around the home as a regular reminder. Move them around regularly so you don’t get too used to them – or write your target language on one note and your home language on another, then try to match them up. Invest. Invest in sticky notes, now!
4. Regular practice time. Trying to learn a new grammar idea, or a list of words is much better done in several short bursts each week rather than one mammoth session. It is much more likely to stick if you have practised more than once. You could try focused learning for 10 minutes, three times per week. Or do as some of our students do and put your list near the kettle (or on the back of the bathroom door) so you see it regularly.
5. Vocab tests. Whether or not your school does regular testing of vocab, it is a simple thing to write a list of the words you are learning (just your home language) and then slip it into a folder for later. When it comes to revision time you have a handy set of tests you can use to see how well you know the topic.
It may be a bit of an effort to help your child to set these habits at the beginning of their language learning time, but it will almost certainly save time later on and hopefully help to streamline the learning process for them.