Navigating Remote Language Learning: An Abbreviated Guide

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, AC Study Abroad programs were held virtually during Summer 2020.

Learning a foreign language can be a daunting task even with the resources that come with in-person learning. Transitioning the class to a remote platform and learning a foreign language can appear to be a near-impossible task. However, by adopting the right attitude and a few simple study habits, one can make remote language learning a far more manageable endeavor. For students undertaking foreign language study in the age of COVID—and those who are considering it—here are a few ways to make the most of your time.

Carve out a dedicated time slot for language study:

Whether you are enrolled in a language course or engaged in self-study, it is useful to have a set period each day dedicated solely to language study. The schedule I have found to work best is one where immediately following my daily Russian classes, I complete outstanding assignments and review the course material taught that day. Once my assignments are completed and submitted, I practice new vocabulary (more on this later), after which, I have a few hours to myself to read, relax, or exercise.

Because of the time difference between myself and my language instructors, the assignments that I submit in the afternoon are usually returned to me, with feedback, by early the following day. As I wake up rather early, I have an additional opportunity to review Russian before class, correcting any mistake I may have made on the previous day’s assignment.

I encourage you to find a routine that works for you—and stick with it. For example, making a note that 3.00-4.30 is your daily time for language study, instead of choosing a different time slot each day, will increase the chance that you adhere to your studies, instead of having other parts of daily life get in the way. I have also found this strategy to help me reinforce language concepts and cut down on procrastination that would occur during shorter language sessions.

Create a running vocabulary list

Practicing your speaking skills with a friend, along with reading and listening to the news in your target language are not only great ways to maintain strong language skills, but they are great vocabulary building exercises as well. Some of the best advice I received from my language program director was to keep a running list of words I am unfamiliar with and translate them when I have a free moment. When you inevitably come across a word that you are unfamiliar with, jot it down on a fresh notepad or in a section of your notebook separate from your other language notes. Keeping new words in a separate spot from your other notes makes it easy to keep track of them. It also prevents you from wasting time waffling through your notebook in search for a word that you know you wrote down but can’t remember exactly where you placed it in your jumble of notes.

After compiling a list of twenty or so words, I like to handwrite flashcards with my new vocabulary. Try to be as detailed as possible when creating your flashcards. It is best to write an example sentence using the unknown word, along with its translation. Better yet, transcribe the sentence using the word in question from its original source (presuming the source used the word correctly) that way you not only learn of a new word, but how to use it as well. This is especially useful if you are learning an irregular verb or phrase that follows an unordinary construction that you are unlikely to remember unless you make a specific note of it.

I further encourage you to find a target language-specific dictionary that translates and defines your word in context, instead of running the risk of a receiving a mistranslation from an unreputable online source.

Keep a positive attitude and remind yourself of your language goals:

Language learning can be frustrating, but in moments of discouragement, remind yourself of how far you’ve come since you first began to study the language. If you’re only just beginning to study your target language and are feeling discouraged, remember that feeling some level of discomfort is part of the learning process. Remind yourself that simply by starting to learn a new alphabet or new word, you are one step further along your journey than the day before.

Moving Forward

With these suggestions, I wish you all the best on your language learning journey. It can be a difficult one, but the difficult moments pale in comparison to those of great joy. Focus on the moments of triumph: when you pronounce a phrase correctly for the first time, after having mispronounced it several times prior, or the moment a complex grammar topic finally clicks, after having spent hours trying to understand it. If you cherish these moments of learning, you will succeed.

And with that, до скорого!

By: Phillip Ruddy

Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program

Term: Summer 2020

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