Friday, 26 September 2014

How to learn a language through distance learning

EDL_Logo1 credit Council of Europe.jpg
Above: Logo of the European Day of Languages
Image credit: Council of Europe

The European Day of Languages has drawn some welcome attention to the subject area of modern foreign languages and encouraged people to learn one for themselves. But while the importance of learning other languages in an increasingly globalised society may be something you’ve heard of before, you might not know that doing so through distance learning is an option even for a subject as practical as this.

At NEC we offer IGCSEs in French and Spanish, as well as A Level French. The successes we saw for this year’s results – for example at IGCSE level, where a third of our learners achieved a Grade A* – shows you don’t have to learn in a classroom to learn a foreign language. Our students receive one-to-one support from a dedicated personal tutor who is an expert in their subject, and further support from their course co-ordinator. Students can also sit the oral component of their exams in Cambridge, where NEC is headquartered.

Our students learn a lot during their studies, but over the years we’ve learned a lot from providing the courses they study too. So in light of today’s focus on languages, we thought we’d put together some of what we’ve learned to help you if you’re considering learning a language, or if you’re already learning and just looking for some general advice.

Prepare and plan ahead

First, the all-important preparation. If you’re not sure which language you want to learn, look around online and you will find a variety of free activities and resources. As well as being a fun learning exercise in their own right, these resources will give you a taste of what a particular language is like, and can help you to choose whether you want to study one further.

Once you’ve chosen a language, plan out your study time to ensure you make good progress. How much time can you give to your studies and what resources do you have at your disposal? Do you work best late in the evening or early in the morning? Could you make more efficient use of your time by reading or listening to your language materials instead of the news during the morning commute?

If you’ve formally enrolled on a course, examine how your course materials are organised to help you create a study schedule.

Practise, practise, practise

Practice makes perfect, especially when trying to learn a language which may be very different to your own. This can be particularly relevant for speaking and listening. NEC tutor Robert, who supports learners enrolled on our A level French course, uses the example of how spoken English is a ‘time-stressed’ language, which means that native speakers are listening for emphasis or stress on certain syllables without even realising it. It then becomes necessary to get used to listening for different cues when learning a different language.

‘The rhythm and intonation of French is different,’ Robert explains, ‘And depends on following the grouping of words and the rise and fall of the voice at the end of phrases.’ Practice (and patience!) are therefore needed at listening and speaking.

‘The more we listen and the more we manage to imitate the music and rhythm of the language, the more we shall be in a position to communicate successfully with native French speakers,’ says Robert. He also points out, ‘This is where regular aural and oral practise with a distance learning tutor can help if you live in a part of the country where there are no native speakers of the target language.’

As you practise, try to avoid the common pitfall of ‘translation’ – thinking of what you want to say in your native language first, before then translating it into your target language. This will only make the process more complicated, and crucially hinders fluency. The sooner you can start thinking in the language you are learning instead of your own, the easier you will find it.

Review and maintain your progress

It’s important to review and test yourself as you work through your course. It can be very easy to forget things when you’re not actively trying to remember them, so reviewing regularly can help you recall significantly more of what you learn than if you don’t review at all. This is why NEC course materials include self-check activities and tutor-marked assignments to help our students progress.

Rewriting, re-ordering and condensing notes is a great way of making what you’ve previously learned more memorable, and the act of processing that information is widely known to increase your ability to retain it for longer. It’s a proven technique that students everywhere still use when revising for exams… which will come in handy for the next point.

If your course leads to a formal qualification in your chosen language, you may need to sit an exam. For our A level and IGCSE courses, NEC learners can choose to sit their written exams at one of our seven partnership centres across the UK, or alternatively at a local centre of their own.

There are also often oral exams for language courses, which may need to be taken separately to the written papers. At NEC we provide a way for our students to sit these exams by giving them the option to come to Cambridge, where we are based, and take their oral exams here.

To learn more about our flexible distance learning language courses, or to browse our full range, visit our website. You can keep up to date with all the latest NEC news and events by subscribing to our email newsletter or following our blog. You can also find us on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

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