How to Study a Foreign Language

studying foreign language

I love your post about taking notes from a textbook, however I’m currently taking Spanish and the book isn’t set up in paragraphs.  Any tips on how to study a foreign language?

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It can be frustrating to study a class/subject that isn’t set up the “traditional” way. For example, we get used to textbooks being set up like a hierarchy with heading and subheadings. On the other hand, foreign languages are more about acquisition and proficiency of the language than they are about learning information.

Foreign Language textbooks tend to focus on grammar rules, conjugating verbs, etc. BUT they don’t always teach you HOW to speak the language.

Another thing that’s weird about  language is the vocabulary terms. For example, the vocabulary terms are usually pretty random and not necessarily what you would need in day-to-day life. I’ll never forget a Spanish class I had my freshman year when my teacher had us saying sentences from the textbook, like “Necesito  mochila” (I need a backpack). We were in tears laughing because they were so random!

Language acquisition happens for us in other languages the same way that it happens in our primary language. How did you learn the language you speak now? You listened to others speak it, you read short children’s books, you played games where you matched 3-letter words to pictures. Learning a foreign language is very similar to teaching yourself Kindergarten!

High Frequency Verbs

In Kindergarten, we teach High Frequency Words. These are words that appear most frequently in the Engligh language: words like a, to, the, are, you, is, etc. Similarly, Terry Waltz came up with the idea of teaching the seven most common verbs first, so that you can create more sentences that you might actually use. Here are the “Super 7” for Spanish:

1. está (is at a place / is feeling)

2. hay (there is / there are)

3. tiene (has)

4. es (is)

5. le gusta (likes / is pleasing to) 2

6. va (goes / is going)

7. quiere (wants)

Read: Study Tips for High School Students

Keep a Notebook

First, track what you’re learning in a notebook, and be sure to use a pencil! Color-coded notes may not work as well for foreign language like they would for science. Next, dedicate different sections of your notebook to what you learn about grammar rules and vocabulary. Finally, give yourself the challenge of writing 10 sentences for every new vocabulary word you learn.

Related: 4 Rules for Effective Studying

Give Yourself Homework

I’m sure your professor gives you homework but is it effective? In college, I always found it easier to teach myself than to try to learn from a professor (no offense, professors!). For example, ordering a simple workbook that’s designed for elementary Spanish-speaking students would be a great (and kind of fun) way to apply and practice what you’re learning!

You might also like: Crash Course in Visual Note-Taking

Use Google Translate

Throughout your day, what sentences do you find yourself saying over and over again in your primary language? Things like, “Do you want to go to…” “Would you please hand me a…” “What time do you want to…” As you start to recognize your recurring sentences, just Google the translation and practice saying that. Likewise, you can also record it on your Voice Memos app to help you remember in the future.

Read: How I Color Code My Notes

Practice!

Foreign languages are all about growing your vocabulary, practicing fluency, learning to read, and practicing correct grammar rules. These are all the things you did in Kindergarten! Don’t just do something once then move on to the next chapter. Keep practicing and applying what you’ve learned! I even used to have the “Siri” voice on my navigation app turned on in Spanish so that I would have to actively listen and comprehend basic instructions (and I only got lost a few times). As a result, my listening comprehension improved and I was able to differentiate between words more easily!

Related: How to Take Better Class Notes

In short, the more you practice, the better you will be! And don’t forget to keep practicing even after you finish this class. Foreign languages are a real “adult” skill that will benefit you for the rest of your life!

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How to Create a Flexible Color-Coded Planning System

I’m wondering how you handle changes within your color-coded system.  For example, if the professor pushed an assignment back or classes were canceled due to inclement weather. 
-Tiffany
 
Great question! I get so annoyed when dates change, but then I remember “oh yeah, this is why I have a planner in the first place”. 
 
If the thought of writing every assignment/appointment/engagement in boring pencil in your planner gives you the heebie-jeebies, don’t worry! There are other (prettier) options!
 
 
 
Welcome to the wonderful world of flexible planning!
 
So, “flexible planning” has kind of become my thing over the past few years. I LOVE planning ahead. LOVE. IT. I love color-coding and timelines. I love being prepared and not having things sneak up on me. But… life, y’all. 
 
Life is full of surprises and things are always changing. Events get postponed. New things pop up.
And since our planners are a reflection of our lives, shouldn’t they be able to mirror those changes?
Of course, they should!
So, what’s my #1 secret weapon for creating a flexible planning system?
Post-Its.
 
Post-It’s have come a long way since Michele first invented them. Check out the amount of space in your planner’s monthly and weekly boxes. Then take a stroll down the office supply aisle of any store (or Amazon) to find some colorful sticky notes that will fit! 
 
These are the Post-It Tabs I use for the outside of my Teacher Planner. They’re 3″ (75mm).
 
My favorites are the Post-It Tabs.
They were originally intended to keep on the edge of pages of books, but I have found that they’re the perfect way to keep my color-coded planning system neat and flexible (no more crossing things out)! I just flip them sideways and write on the colored and clear parts. 
Here are the different sizes I use in my Planner: 
 
 
I have found that these are the perfect size for the columns in the Plum Paper Planner! I have the ME Weekly Layout, and this kind of Post-It fills an entire section within a day. If you want multiple Post-It’s, try these:
 
These are a good alternative to the Tabs because they give you more room to write above/below or have multiple flags in a particular section of your planner.
In school, I might suggest using the Tabs for bigger assignments, and the flags for smaller assignments… but just find the system that works best for you!
 
 
 
Here is what I like best about these two types of Post-Its:
-They are durable, so they’re easy to write on
-You can remove/replace them over and over again, and they still stick
-They’re easy to write on
(I use a Black Tombow ABT N15, but Sharpie pens work well, too!)
Here are examples of how I use them:
 
In my teacher planner, I use Post-It Tabs for lesson ideas. Then I can easily move them if plans change.
(Side Note: First rule of teaching? Plans always change.)
In my personal planner, I use Sharpie Highlighters set-in-stone events and Post-It Tabs for things that can be flexible.
 
 
 
 
Other Options:
Another option that I’m not quite as crazy about (but is more cost effective) is the Post-It Page Markers. The colors are pretty and you get way more for your money… but they aren’t as durable and won’t re-stick as easily. If you move it more than once, you’ll probably have to rewrite it. So, I guess it’s good that you get more in a pack!
 
 
Using Post-Its has worked so well for me, that I haven’t really tried another system. Although, I have heard really great things about the Pilot Frixon Erasable Pens. If you’ve tried those, please chime in and let us know what you thought! 
(UPDATE: I have tried these and they are beyond incredible! They actually do erase really cleanly and the colors are fun. The only downside is that they dry out a little faster than other pens. But it may be worth it for the convenience!)
 


If you’ve tried another system for flexible planning and color coding, please share it below! 
 
We’d love to know some other options! 🙂 
 

Organize Your Class Binders

how to organize your class binders
‘How do you organize your class binders?’ -Amanda
If you are looking for ways to organize your class binders, I can definitely help with that! It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of opting for class folders over binders. But what if a folder just isn’t practical for your class? Or what if you get really annoyed by the bent up corners and you just can’t take it anymore? 
So, if you’re the kind of person who prefers to use binders, this post is for you!
organize your class binders

Label your binders for quick access

The first step to organize your class binders is to label them! This may seem really obvious, but I can’t skip sharing it! You may want to color-code them with washi tape or printed labels on colored cardstock. You’ll also want to clearly label your binder on the front cover. This way, whether you have them standing in a locker or tossed in the backseat of your car, you can quickly grab the right one! 

Follow the same format in each binder

Another great way to organize your class binders is to make up a consistent system and use it in each binder. What I mean by this is, plan the “layout” of your binders and use the same format in each one. Here’s an example:
  • Front Pocket: Upcoming Assignments
  • Back Pocket: Graded Assignments
  • Back Cover: Class Grad Sheet
Pull out the 3 things you’ll need/use the most over the semester and put them in these easy-to-access locations! In the photo below, I used the first page of my binder as an “actionable steps” list. Just use whatever you need and whatever works best for you! 
tips for how to organize your class binders

Get a sheet protector

Sheet protectors are a great way to organize your class binders! I love sheet protectors, and using one as your very first page in the binder can help you keep your school life together! This is a great place to put your semester assignment spreadsheet for the class, just to make sure you’re always on track! You could also use wet/dry erase markers to write on them, like below!
how you can organize your class binders

Don’t be afraid to rework your syllabus

What I don’t like about syllabi is that each professor uses a different format. I like to take the syllabus, get rid of all of the university guidelines, and re-type the important parts, like assignment due dates and class meeting dates. This keeps it clean and concise!

Use tabs

The amount of tabbed notebook dividers I find all over my house is ridiculous. I usually just get the ones that have 5 dividers, but you can use more or less depending on your needs! Here are the categories I usually use:
  • Class Information- Hole punch and save the original syllabus
  • Handouts- Any handouts your professor gives you, newest on top
  • Notes- Neatly rewritten notes from class, newest on top
  • Graded Assignments- Papers/tests that have been graded & returned, newest on top
  • Blank Paper- If you’re not bringing a separate notebook, bring blank notebook paper 🙂 
organize your class binders for a new semester
So, inders are a great way to stay organized throughout the semester! They are a little bulkier and a little more awkward to deal with in class (all that snapping!), but if that doesn’t bother you, then bind away! 🙂 
So, how do you organize your class binders or folders?!