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Study Advice for Students

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Students often need constructive study advice. Students who progress slowly, quit their studies, or become discouraged often do so because they simply don't have effective study techniques. For example, let's say Takeshi, a Japanese student, wants to improve his vocabulary. He buys a book of 1000 words, with each entry listing the word and definition in both English and Japanese. A short multiple choice quiz is at the end of each chapter.

Unfortunately, this is one of the least effective ways to improve vocabulary. The words are simply entered into Takeshi's short-term memory. The words aren't accompanied with examples, so he has no opportunity to see each vocabulary word used in context. He will also miss the nuance and proper usage of each word.

Or let's say there is a student who wants to improve her reading, so she buys a paperback novel. Unfortunately, the prose is far above her level, and so she spends thirty minutes on each page. She must check vocabulary words, as well as translate (poorly) sentences and passages just to get the gist.

Or how about a student who watches programs like ER or 24 to improve her listening. Both may be good shows, but neither contains a lot of relatable situations filled with high frequency, useful words for students. (Of course, if the student is a doctor or fights terrorists, perhaps these shows would be very useful!)

Constructive study advice is therefore very important. In all of the above examples, ineffective study habits hinder motivation and progress. Teachers can give the correct advice to keep each student working at not only something as difficult as a language, but his specific weaknesses in the language.

Before I move on and give a few suggestions, there's one last point which needs to be mentioned: Be as specific as possible. As a teacher, don't just recommend that the student watch TV shows. Give him specific shows to watch. Even better, explain to him how to watch the shows, specifics to look and listen for, and so on. In other words, not only give each student specific tools but also teach him how to use those tools.

Here are some ideas to provide directly to students:

Idea #1: Write notes in class. Review the notes after class and before the next meeting.

Idea #2: Purposely use grammar just studied and practice it in a free conversation. The more the grammar gets used, the better your chances of retention.

Idea #1: Write any new vocabulary from a lesson in a notebook. After the lesson, check the words in a dictionary. Include usage and pronunciation of the words too. Except for beginners, the English definition should also be checked. Last, write a sample sentence of your own.

Idea #2: Think of a topic that you're interested in. Look up words and write a short essay on the topic.

Idea #1: Listen to podcasts at Heads Up English (and other sites). Listen repeatedly until you can understand the majority of the monologue or dialogue.

Idea #2: Listen to a short podcast of about five minutes or less. Transcribe the podcast word for word. Check against a script at the end. (This also works well to improve use of vocabulary and high frequency phrases. With increased exposure comes better fluency.)

...ineffective study habits hinder motivation and progress

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Idea #1: Record yourself reading a short passage. Listen to your recording and the same text read by a native speaker. By slowly learning to identify areas that are weak (pronunciation, intonation, stress, etc.), then you can target those areas for improvement.

Idea #2: Listen to podcasts of short sentences or vocabulary words. Listen to only five or ten passages/words, but add a little each day. After each sentence or word, repeat the information. Do this every day, and always listen to the old material with the new material too. This will improve intonation, stress, and pronunciation of specific sounds.

Idea #1: Talk about a topic that you're interested in. Time yourself. When you get stuck, stop. How much time has passed? Repeat the process, sticking to the same information, as it should come out more quickly. You can do this three or four times.

Idea #2: Don't translate back and forth from your native language into English. Get into the habit of speaking, even if there are mistakes.



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