Is there a greater pleasure for teachers than a triumph of their own students? It could only be a double triumph, accomplished in two different, equally hard disciplines. However, the pleasure I am feeling at this moment has no comparison, because this time my student is also my own child.
I got him when I had already achieved all of my competitive ambitions. I had never wanted to put the burden of my own expectations and desires on his shoulders. Having recognized his inherited talent for learning languages, I channeled my teaching only to the extent that he was interested and curious to follow.
By coincidence, the first foreign language for my child was Italian, not English. I used to travel very often to Italy when he was two and he started collecting words and expressions without my influence.
I was amazed to see how the child of three or four absorbed with ease such complex grammar issues.
When he started going to school, we had to stop travelling that often, but I chose the school offering Italian and English as the second and the third language. It was also when I started teaching him, using my particular techniques. The internet and the constant communication in English with friends from all over the world have completed the job.
As a result, when he finally got a chance to compete (The first official competition in my country for languages is at the age of 14), he won the first prizes, both in English end Italian.
Can you imagine how proud I feel at this moment? There is no greater reward for all the effort and patience that I have given him, nor better publicity and proof of quality for my teaching methods.
This time I will show you how to use my memory card technique for learning foreign languages. I started using it while I was still at the University. We were supposed to memorize huge sentences in Latin and ancient Italian language, and as long as they were written on paper in some kind of logical order I somehow managed to reproduce them.
However, as soon as I tried to reach them individually, without context, it became much more difficult. Then I started using these cards, and the results were so fascinating even to me personally, that I immediately classified them as one of my basic teaching techniques.
During my classes, when I finish explaining a new grammar topic, I always give my students a task to translate a few sentences from native to foreign language. These sentences always contain a new grammar topic, some new or less familiar words we mentioned during that class and an actual event, which creates an emotional connection between students and sentences, which they recognize then as close, interesting, and relevant. For me as a teacher, it would surely be much easier to use always the same sentences, already prepared, but then, I would not be able to create that precious emotional connection.
After we check and correct them, their next task is to copy those sentences to small papers (usually 1/32 of an A4 format, meaning an A4 format folded in half 5 times), so that each sentence is written on the separate paper. In such a way we avoid the effect of the “memorized image”, I spoke about last time. The sentence in the mother tongue is always written in blue for example, and its translation is always red, with no intention to create any psychological effects, but to make it easier to pick them up and put them together if they scatter.
I insist on using small papers because it is the only way that we can have them with us all the time, on the plane, in the wallet, or simply in an empty box of chewing gums. Thus, whenever we find ourselves stuck in a queue or in traffic jam, during the day, we can take them out and use this time wisely instead of getting annoyed.
The next phase is, naturally, crucial. We read the sentences in our language (blue side) and try to translate them to the language we want to learn to speak. It is not something that we should learn by heart, because we are already familiar with the grammar and new words in them. We should learn them as an ideal basis for making hundreds of new similar combinations.
When we give the answer, we turn the paper and check its accuracy on the red side. If we make a mistake, we should try to understand why we did it, and then we put that paper on the bottom of the pile. If we are just insecure or insufficiently fast, the paper goes to the bottom again. Only if we give the answer promptly and accurately, we can put that paper aside.
When we encounter the same paper for the second time, we should translate it easier. If this is not the case, paper will end up again at the bottom of the pile. After the second and the third round, the pile will start getting smaller, and our attention can concentrate on the most difficult ones. It is important to keep going through them, until we learn the last paper. We should repeat the whole procedure the next day, then in 3, and in 7 days. It is always amazing to see how well some of them manage to escape from our memory.
As a result, we will always have the latest 10 or 20 papers that we know badly, the next 20 that still torture us, but the pile of those ones that we know excellently will grow day in day out, and they represent our real knowledge.
What do we get with this?
We learn some new grammar rules.
We learn some new words.
We create a basic sentence that we can easily adjust to new situations.
Most importantly, we create an automatic response in a foreign language, and therefore spontaneous speech.
I will end this by sharing a personal experience of mine. After several months of studying with these cards, I went to my exam, got my questions, and naturally remembered everything without a problem, but what amazed me and my professors most, was the ease and the speed of my language. It was completely spontaneous and smooth.
Do try this simple system and tell me about your experiences.
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Talking to my friends who would like to engage with me in some sort of online business, I often encounter their lack of knowledge or insufficient knowledge of languages, as an obstacle.
That’s why I would like to share a bit of my 25 year long experience in language teaching and all the things that could make the learning easier, or even more interesting and entertaining.. I am a professor of Italian language and literature, my mother tongue is Serbian, I learned English and Russian at school and now I am studying Greek for fun.
My students achieve remarkable results because we use all the resources we have to make studying easier and more enjoyable and we use some tricks to fool our own brain so that it does not deceive us.
How do you study new words? The answers I get to this question are fascinating. Some students repeat them a few times, or read them once and simply try to memorize. Some of them make lists with the words and their translation and keep reading them.
Imagine that you have a list of 30 new words, you learn them for a while and then, only after a few hours, during a test or in a conversation, you cannot remember many of them.
Then maybe you start repeating learned words, and your brain already knows which word is the next one below and which is the last one. This is because the brain memorizes the picture of the list and reproduces it at that moment, but it has nothing to do with real knowledge and it is not of a permanent character.
If you try to use a word from the list the next day, there are great chances that you will be very angry at your bad memory. After all, what did you actually do?
Imagine that you are a great fan of t-shirts and you are fond of buying them. Every day you buy some and put them in your wardrobe, without order. There is now a chaotic pile there, but you love it. Then, it happens that you need a yellow t-shirt with the green strips and you know you have it, but no matter how hard you try, you cannot possibly find it. The same thing happens in your head with words. There is no hook in the sea of them, which will draw the desired word to the surface.
However, if you hang the t-shirts in the closet, the situation will be completely different. No matter how many T-shirts there are, the sleeve of the one you want will still be visible and easy to find.
Thus, the most important thing in learning foreign words and languages in general is creation of associations. My younger students, after just a few lessons, become little experts in making them, and the older ones, used to repetitive learning, find it a bit harder, but they also start liking it as soon as they experience the first benefits of lasting and reliable memory.
Make a list of thirty words of a foreign language, and write their meaning on the right
Read them and try to create a good association to each one of them. For example, the Serbian word for a monkey is “majmun”. Pronounced, this irresistibly reminds me of “my Moon”, so you should try to imagine the Moon in the sky that itches like a monkey. In addition, if you can “hear” the sound of it or “see” for example, the red color of its cap, the association will be better and more reliable. The more connected ideas to the desired word you make, the better the association gets. We can take for example, the Italian word for a tree “albero”. It looks like Albert, doesn’t it? Then imagine Albert Einstein sitting under a tree, rubbing his mustaches and thinking about relativity! It takes a little time and effort when you first encounter a new word but this way is far more efficient than learning it by heart, which usually, very soon ends up with forgetting.
Cover the right side of the list and make sure you know the translation of each foreign word.
Cover the left side now and try to translate the words in the opposite direction, from your language.
Ideally, give someone to read them to you randomly to avoid the “memorized image”, i.e. what the brain has visually scanned, which, in most cases has nothing to do with knowledge.
From week to week, I will try to pass on to you some things that I have created for my students during all these years, that made their learning process of foreign languages much easier and much more fun. If you want to receive updates about new posts, leave me your email address in the “contact” section, and if you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below.