How To Learn A Language

Part Three: Going It Alone


Using Your
Most students who learn a foreign language in a classroom situation do so from a textbook. This is normally chosen by your teacher and may be part of a larger course stretching over a number of years. The general pattern is for the class to work primarily from a textbook, with additional materials being provided by the teacher if and when required – these might be supplementary books, worksheets, extra texts, etc.

Your textbook can be the single most valuable resource you have, but only if you use it well and explore its full potential. Every foreign language textbook offers a wide variety of resources presented in an accessible and user-friendly format. All you have to do is ensure that you take the time to acquaint yourself with its contents. You might be surprised at what you find!

The purpose of this chapter is to show you how to do this, and to prove to you that using your textbook effectively is a vital skill in language learning. The form and layout of the average textbook are described in detail, and advice is given on how you can actively exploit its wide range of features and resources.

Using a
Think of what it would be like to do an advanced mathematics course without a calculator – you might be able to manage it, but it would probably take much more time and effort. Could you do an equivalent course in a foreign language without a dictionary? Not so easy – if you don’t know a word or expression, then looking it up in a dictionary is usually your only option.

Apart from your textbook, your dictionary is perhaps the most valuable resource that you can have when learning a foreign language. Having said that, learning to use a dictionary properly is not as easy as it might appear, and much of this chapter is devoted to giving you clear advice on how to use one effectively.

If you are already well down the route of learning a language, then buying your own dictionary makes a lot of sense. Detailed advice is therefore given on choosing the right dictionary for your learning needs. The chapter then describes the basic features common to all foreign language dictionaries, with detailed explanations on how to access them. Finally, guidance is given on how to acquire and practise advanced dictionary skills.


Learning a foreign language doesn’t just happen in the classroom. There are some aspects of language learning that teachers find more convenient to address by setting homework. The problem is that many students fail to realize its importance, with the result that their progress in the foreign language is severely limited.

The purpose of this chapter is not only to demonstrate the importance of homework in learning a foreign language, but also to point out some ways in which you can make the most of it. We start by looking at two key areas: the different types of foreign language homework set by teachers, and the issues that arise when students are doing it. The chapter also includes much practical advice on ensuring that homework assignments are completed as well as possible.

The mere mention of the word examination can have a variety of different effects on foreign language students. These range from instant feelings of fear, dread and panic all the way through to calm reflection on what lies ahead. Most of us are somewhere in the middle: a little nervous or concerned about how well we are likely to do.

Performing well in a foreign language examination is not a question of mastering a precise body of knowledge and recalling it at the appropriate moment; it is more a test of how well you can apply the skills you have learnt to the task in question. Having said this, you also need to master the technique of preparing for and sitting examinations.

This chapter will give you some useful advice on how to do exactly that. Effective revision techniques are described in detail, along with strategies for maximizing your performance during the actual examination.