First Learn It, Then Use It | TROLL 017

Welcome back to yet another Rule of Language Learning…

And you'd better get used to it, because these Rules of Language Learning are going to come thick and fast. And I have an endless store of them in my brain. So we're in this for the long haul!

I remember when I trained as a teacher, I was lucky enough to have some of the best trainers in the business.

These teacher trainers understood that people like me, a newbie teacher, didn’t have the capacity to learn too much at once.

If they taught us too many new teaching techniques all at once, we'd just get confused and overwhelmed.

So what these trainers do is to think of the most important things for new teachers to learn. And kind of package these things up into bite-size ideas…

And then they hammer home these important ideas over and over, in an effort to get you to remember them.

Not entirely unlike these Rules of Language Learning that I'm presenting to you here! You might have spotted similar themes cropping up over and over… maybe?


One of the ideas that I still remember to this day, and that proved very useful to me as a teacher, is the concept of personalisation.

Why Is Personalisation Important In Language Learning?


So what is personalisation?

Well, personalisation means taking some language that you've just learnt, and then using that language to express something personal.

Not parrot a line from a textbook, but make it your own.

Let’s take a very simple example.

Imagine I’m teaching you a new language, and I teach you the verb “to go” in that language.

I might teach you the verb itself, what it means, and then get you to do some conjugation practice:

Then, in the last part of the lesson, after all this “learning”, we then get to personalisation

And so what you might do is have a conversation with another student and talk about all the places you like “to go” too. This is an example of what we would call personalisation… “personalising” what you're learning.

This idea of personalisation is actually really, really smart.

You see, there are different levels of actually knowing a word.

On one end of the spectrum, there might be a word that you know really vaguely — all you can do is recognise it when you hear it.

But then on the other extreme, there's really knowing that word inside out and back to front, such that you can recall it on demand and use it perfectly every time in your own speech.

There are different levels of knowing a word, or anything in language learning for that matter, ladies and gentlemen, and there is one thing you can do that reliably helps you to get to know something much much better than you already do.

What is that thing?

You guessed it, it’s personalisation.

But for the purposes of this post, I’d like to take the word personalisation, and make it a lot more practical.

In plain English, the best way to really learn a new word, a piece of grammar, or whatever, to actually own it and make it your own, is to use it.

Use it.

That’s right, it’s really pretty simple, but it’s worth remembering, especially if you tend to study by yourself a lot of the time.

When you learn something new, you really should go out and use it.


How To Use What You Learn To Make It Your Own

So if you learn a new word in your textbook, make sure you then go out and use that word with your speaking partner or teacher.

If you’ve learnt a new grammar construction, go out and write 10 sentences using it…

Whatever it is.

It doesn't really matter, providing you're making it your own somehow.

Now, depending on how you like to learn, it might be difficult to intentionally go out and use every single new thing that you learn.

But you certainly can do this with words, phrases or grammar that you’ve decided you really want to be able to use.

A trick I often use is to make a list of the words and phrases I want to practise and send that list to my teacher before our lesson.

I say to him or her: “Can you help me practise the stuff in this list in our lesson today?”

Teachers love this, because they know exactly how you want to use the lesson time, which makes their job much easier.

Now, speaking is generally a good way to hammer it into your brain. But it doesn’t have to be speaking. It could be writing.

And, you tell me… this concept of personalisation, or simply “using what you’ve learnt” makes perfect sense right?

The Best Way To Remember What You Learn

What’s that adage about remembering “20% of what you hear, 40% of what you hear and see, 60% of what you hear see and say…”

Whatever… I’m probably massacring that, but you get the point!

Once you’ve said something a few times, in real conversation, you’re much more likely to remember it, because you’ve used it for real communication.

This is the polyglot equivalent of personalisation in the teaching world.

And you could be forgiven for saying it’s obvious.

And if you did think that, well, like many of these Rules of Language Learning, you’d be right.

But like I always say, simple is best.

Simple also makes it easy to remember, and I like that.

So remember…

First learn it, then use it.

Over to you. Have you got a strategy for personalising and using what you learn? What changes or additions are you going to make to your language learning routine? 

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