How To Learn A Language

Part Two: Practice Makes Perfect



Many language students find it difficult to listen effectively. There is something about the art of listening that fills us with apprehension. How fast will they be talking? Will I get a chance to hear it again? Will I know all the vocabulary? As a result we feel under stress before we even start to listen.

Effective listeners are those who have the ability to concentrate on what is being said and react appropriately to it. We can all do this; it’s just that some of us need more practice than others. Good listening techniques have to be worked at, and the purpose of this chapter is to teach you how to listen effectively whatever the situation.

We look at the different types of listening you will come across when learning a language, and show you how to improve your listening skills. Ways of practising your listening and improving your overall performance are described in detail.


Ask anyone which skill they admire most in someone who has learnt a foreign language and they will usually give the same answer: speaking. There is something about a person’s ability to speak fluently in another language that never fails to impress us. It may be their confidence, their skill at speaking without apparent thought or effort, their accent, their speed of delivery.

We may feel that our speaking skills are the only ones that really count, and that people will judge our linguistic ability on this factor alone. Obviously things are not quite as simple as this. To be a complete linguist you not only require good speaking skills, but also good listening, reading and writing skills.

This chapter will help you to speak more effectively in the foreign language, whatever your level of confidence or ability. The various forms of speaking tasks you will encounter as a language learner are listed. You are then taught a range of strategies for dealing with them. The chapter concludes with advice on how speaking skills can be actively developed and practised.


Reading in the foreign language always gets mixed reviews from students. Some enjoy it and find it easy; when you ask them why, they explain that the written word is there, printed in front of them, ready for them to read, re-read and ponder over. Others are terrified when they see a big chunk of text; they think to themselves, I’ll never be able to read this and they panic. They cannot cope with masses of words because they lack the confidence to be able to break them down and analyze their meaning.

You may be a confident, adventurous reader, or an unwilling and faltering one; many of us are somewhere in the middle. This chapter will give you some useful guidance about how to read effectively in the foreign language, whatever your level of ability. We start by describing the wide range of text types and reading comprehension exercises tackled by language students. Effective reading techniques are then presented in detail, and suggestions are given for improving and consolidating your reading skills.


What kind of writer are you? You may have plenty of ideas when writing creatively in the foreign language; you write quickly but carelessly, and your work contains frequent errors. Alternatively you may lack imagination and limit your writing to what you know to be correct; you never take risks and your work is dull, but with almost no mistakes. Or you might find writing a pain rather than a pleasure; you have little to say, and find difficulty in saying it.

Whatever type of student you are, you will find that the advice given in this chapter will help you to write more creatively, while maintaining a high standard of linguistic accuracy. We start by looking at some of the different types of writing you may be expected to produce. This is followed by a step by step guide to effective writing that covers drafting, reviewing and checking techniques, as well as advice on how best you can practise these skills.