Study Hints for World Languages

Time Spent Outside of Class

It's hard to set any exact figures, but most students need to spend a minimum of 2 - 3 hours outside of class for every hour in class. If it's an area that is difficult for you, more time may be needed.  Also, studying a language every day will make the process easier, fun and more productive.

How To Analyze a Language

You cannot learn a language by just "thinking" about it.  You need to build up new language habits.  You'll want to memorize vocabulary, along with understanding the grammatical system of the language.

Textbook and Professor Study Hints

Most language textbooks give helpful hints at the beginning regarding effective study and appropriate use of the test. They are definitely worth reading before you begin.  Your professor will also likely give you study hints plus valuable information regarding the language lab.

Listen and Imitate

You can help your acquisition and pronunciation by listening to the language from people, records or movies and then imitating them.  Many opportunities will be given for practice in class; use them.  You will make mistakes, but your professor will help you learn from them.  Also, if you have listening concerns in the language lab, ask for help.


Memorize your vocabulary words or your rules of grammar in small blocks of material and time.  Both are vital to the learning of a language; you can't learn grammar without vocabulary, and without grammar, vocabulary can't be used.  Review often, but also move on to something new.  Language is a set of habits, it takes lots of repetition.  Flash cards work well for many students.

Study Out Loud and Write

The more senses you use, the more rapidly and better you learn a language.  Therefore, studying out loud and writing are very good ideas.  As you see, pronounce, and hear the word, you have the benefit of visual, motor and auditory involvement; as you write the words at the same time, you even get more motor involvement.

Divide the Material into Small Units and Study Time Into Small Blocks

Our short term memory can handle only a few words at a time.  Therefore, when learning new vocabulary, take only about seven words at a time.  Learn those well. Then take seven new ones.  Later, group them together.  Also, study in about twenty minute blocks of time, then go on to another subject,  and later return to your world language.

Make Full Use of Class Hours

Be prepared.  The use that you make of in-class time is extremely important.  Time well spent in class can save you hours later.  When another student is reciting, be reciting mentally.  Missing class is extremely unfortunate.  There is no way foreign language class interaction and learning can be made up.

Don't Fall Behind

Cramming for a language exam would be about as sensible as cramming for a swimming test.  You just cannot learn habits that way.  Learning a language is a highly cumulative process.  It is like building a tower out of blocks.  You build on what is there before.  When a block is missing there is real trouble!

Reading the Language

Start by reading the foreign language right out of the book, then look away, and say it again, repeating it several times.  Then, go on to the next step.  Look at the English and try to say the foreign word or phrase without looking at it.  If you have trouble, try breaking it into smaller pieces and then string them together.  During the course when reading becomes more involved, you often come across single words that you have not yet learned. Just keep reading to the end of the paragraph.  Very often the context will give you the meaning.  If not, then go back and look up the words that are still unfamiliar.  These words should not be written between the lines in the text.  Instead, put them in a notebook or on flashcards with their English equivalents.

Portions of this handout are taken from one by William G Moulton, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina.