Good Learning Habits for Great Results!

Good Learning Habits for Great Results!

Now that the schools are back, many young people are having their first introductions to a foreign language.  Whether your son or daughter is starting out with a friendly, fun-based after-school club; or a more formal secondary school classroom setting, there are a few things that you can do to help your child get to grips with this new challenge and learn more effectively.

Firstly, no matter what you thought of language lessons at school, PLEASE do not tell your child that you were rubbish at languages, or that you don’t see the point of learning them.  Even if both thing are true.  If your child is in secondary school then they have several years of compulsory language-learning ahead of them, so it would be far better to encourage them to have a good try and see what they think for themselves.

At least to start with, learning a new language seems to consist mostly of lists of new words that you have to learn.  Colours, numbers, parts of the body… the lists seem to go on and on.  Many children seem to learn the words just well enough to get through this week, or the test at the end of the module, and the cheerfully forget them again.  As you may guess, this is a very short-term strategy that can easily come back to bite them if they continue the language to GCSE and beyond.  Help your child to start a vocabulary book and encourage them to keep it up, so that they can refer back to it when needed.  Give them little mini-tests or challenges throughout the year to keep the information fresh.  Why not do a treasure hunt using clues written (at least partially) in the key language?  Or play hangman?

At some point in the learning journey (probably fairly quickly) the subject of grammar will rear its ugly head.  Many adults recoil in horror at this point, especially those who were educated in the 1970s and 1980s when there was not such an emphasis on grammar learning in some sectors.  It is important to note that grammar does not need to be scary, or even hard to learn, as long as it is something you get a handle on earlier rather than later.  Indeed, it can be rather like being given the decoder so that you can decipher spy messages.  At least, that’s what I tell my children!  However, it can be a real chore to have to go back through old schoolbooks from several years ago in order to find a grammar explanation and revise the details.  It is a good idea to set up a grammar folder (just an A4 folder, in any colour you like, with dividers) and to write up each new concept on a sheet of paper to go in the folder.  This is a great way of revising as well as providing material to revise from in the future.

Homework – were you the type who saved all your homework until the last day before the deadline and then panicked to get it all done in time?  Or did you prefer to work methodically, tackling one or two pieces each night so you were never overwhelmed?  Well, learning a language can be a bit like that.  Of course it is possible to dash off the worksheets and exercises quickly at the last moment, but if you want the information to stick, especially for vocabulary, then you need to have a bit more method. 

If you try to learn all your new words in one mammoth session, then it is quite likely that you will forget them all very quickly.  Three smaller sessions of, say, 10 minutes each week, are much more likely to be effective. Essentially, “little and often” is best, as each time we practice a new task we get better at doing it.  Try to persuade your children to do their vocabulary learning in regular, bite-sized chunks.  You could help by testing them, or even just by reminding them.

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.

This blog post I wrote earlier gives some other great tips to help you learn your new language more easily:

5 Useful French Grammar Constructions

5 Useful French Grammar Constructions

French grammar constructions?  How dull, I hear you cry!  However, that grammar does have its uses, especially if you are trying to make your language more interesting – whether you are looking to impress your friends with some fancy phrases, or you are keen to get some of those extra exam marks for “complex grammar constructions”. 

Here are a few useful ways of saying things which should help to widen your vocabulary.  Many of these constructions can be used in a range of tenses, so I have given a couple of examples in each case.

 1.     Être en train de + infinitive – to be in the middle of doing something.

  • Je suis en train d’écrire un blog – I am in the middle of writing a blog. 
  • J’étais en train d’écrire un blog, quand j’ai vu un chat – I was in the middle of writing a blog when I saw a cat.

2.     Au lieu de + infinitive – instead of doing….

  • Au lieu d’écrire un blog, il faut faire mes devoirs – Instead of writing a blog, I must do my homework.
  • Au lieu de faire mes devoirs, j’ai regardé la télé – Instead of doing my homework I watched TV.

3.     Après avoir/être + past participle – after having done something. WATCH OUT!  Just like the present perfect tense, you need to take care of the être verbs…

  • Après avoir écrit mon blog, je vais prendre un thé – After having written my blog I am going to have a cup of tea.
  • Après être allée en ville, j’écrirai encore un blog ! – After having gone to town I will write another blog!

4.     Avant de + infinitive – before doing something

  • Avant de boire mon thé, je vais finir le blog – Before drinking my tea I am going to finish the blog.
  • Avant de finir le blog, je cherche d’autres exemples – Before finishing the blog, I look for other examples.

5.     Venir de + infinitive – to have just done something

  • Je venais de trouver un exemple, quand la téléphone a sonné – I had just found an example when the phone rang.
  • Je viens de finir mon blog. Youpi ! – I have just finished my blog.  Hurrah!


The author is a Surrey-based language tutor specialising in French, German and English as a Foreign Language.  She has many years of experience of trying to sound more interesting in French, especially with a view to boosting exam grades (whether for herself or others!).

Exam Tips – The Reading Exam

Exam Tips – The Reading Exam

There are some ways that you can prepare yourself before you even read a word of the actual paper.  Make sure that you know how long each exam is. What are the requirements of that paper? What will you need to do for each section and how long should you spend on it? Which paper is to be taken on which day? Be sure to prepare for the right one!

Time management is key in exams.  Take your watch off and put it on the table in front of you. Make sure that you don’t get so involved in one section of the paper that you forget to leave enough time to do the rest!


So, now let’s look at the reading exam itself.  Extracting the important information from a text in your target language is a key skill and probably one of those that you will use most in real life – from menus to museum leaflets.  A few key tips could make a significant difference in the way you approach this part of the assessment and also in the score that you receive.

The reading paper presents a range of text types from picture-heavy “adverts” to extracts from works of literature.  One of the first things I would say is that you shouldn’t allow yourself to be intimidated by the literature component – the extracts have been chosen very carefully and the key parts will be using the vocabulary and grammar that you have already been taught.

The main hints that I have for the reading exam are these:

  • When it comes to the reading paper, make sure you read the questions BEFORE you read each text! It may sound odd, but the questions will give you a good idea of what the text is about. Then you can read the text and already have in mind which information is likely to be important.
  • NEVER leave an answer blank. An intelligent guess is more likely to gain marks than a blank, which is guaranteed not to score at all!
  • Watch out for the little words that can make all the difference. Words like “not”, “already”, “never” etc. can change the whole meaning of a sentence and provide the key information for answering the question successfully.
  • Check WHO is doing the action in the sentences. It is not uncommon to find that someone does the action mentioned in the question, but not necessarily the person you might think.  For example, if Jenny is talking about her weekend and says that her brother tidied his room, then tidying the room is NOT an activity that Jenny did!
  • Practise question words and question formation. Some of the tasks may be explained in your target language rather than in English, so do be sure that you can understand what you need to do.
  • Remember to answer the questions in the language in which they are set. So, if the question is written in English then answer in English.  If it is written in your target language, then answer in the target language.
  • Look carefully at the tenses! There will probably be occasions when an activity in the question is mentioned in the text, but in a different time frame.  For example, don’t get confused between what a character did last weekend and what they plan to do next week.
  • Likewise with the section which requires translation into English. The text itself is quite short but it will be full of little details which make all the difference.  Tenses are important again, as are negatives, time phrases and prepositions.  Try to fit in all the little bits of information in order to gain maximum marks.

Try to get as much practise of the reading paper skills as you can.  BBC Bitesize offers a range of resources to help you and there are also revision books that you can get which have the answers in the back so you can check how you are doing.  As with so many things, little and often is key, so start revising soon!


Teri Fleetwood is an experienced language tutor with over 10 years experience of tutoring to the GCSE and A Level curriculum.  For more information please look at the rest of the posts in this blog and also check our Facebook page  If you would like to discuss 1:1 or small group tuition, whether for exam preparation or pleasure, then do get in touch!

Using festivals and seasons in language teaching

Using festivals and seasons in language teaching