World language courses at UVA are popular and fun for students across the University. At the same time, once the semester is underway, students sometimes feel surprised by the demanding nature of the classes and overwhelmed by the amount of daily and weekly class work necessary to keep up. We have compiled the tips below to help you strategically use your time and resources to manage the workload and feel successful:
Seek support early and often. Know what is available before you need it
At the beginning of the semester, visit the instructor and/or TA in office hours and introduce yourself. Get to know them too! Ask for their top tips in learning the language well and how to manage the workload. Ask if the instructor will help facilitate study groups by email or GroupMe or set one up yourself. Ask about tutoring, additional language practice and other resources available to support your learning.
Study the language in short bursts EVERY DAY
Yes, everyone says this about everything… With languages, it is definitely true. Your brain needs regular and active time spent with the language for things to stick. Cramming your study of languages to marathon study sessions will not help you learn. Instead, spread that time out into short periods every day.
Study flashcards while you walk or ride the bus, or in between classes. You can use tools such as Quizlet or simply cover a page of your book and quiz yourself. You can also probably find pre-made flashcards by searching online for your textbook. Set up a weekly study group with classmates to review and practice what you learned that week. Use the time to quiz and teach the material to each other – two of the best learning strategies.
If you find yourself getting distracted and not being able to focus, try the Pomodoro approach that breaks down time segments, with short breaks. There are apps and websites that can help you do this if you search “pomodoro” or “focus.”
Begin each homework session with a vocab review
A few minutes spent reading and listening to the vocabulary of the day’s lesson is going to make those words more familiar to you as you dig into an assignment or study for that unit’s test. Apps like Quizlet have different games to make this vocabulary study more fun and engaging. Or grab a classmate and review together, even if it is just for 5-10 minutes.
For homework, focus on answering the questions not on understanding every detail
The goal of assignments is not for you to understand 100% of everything, but to practice and answer the questions asked of you. As you read/listen, focus on the words you do know and try not to translate or search for the translation of the phrase online. By actively deconstructing and reconstructing the phrase, you are enhancing your retention of that language and your independent skills of comprehension. This will come in handy when you are speaking with a native speaker! In the moment, you won’t be able to translate their phrases, but you will have developed your skill of comprehension, even when you don’t know every word.
Actively participate and practice SPEAKING the language
Speaking a language is the only way to learn. Practice putting yourself out there and speaking up, even in small ways. The more the better. It doesn’t have to be with whole class, it could be with your group or a study buddy. Remember, everyone makes mistakes. Picture a baby learning to walk, they inevitably fall over and over again, but they just keep getting back up and trying again. They don’t feel ashamed, they are just focused on learning to walk.
Stay organized with a weekly homework “To-Do List”
Use your “to-do list” to manage your workload. Divide the list by days in the week (Monday – Sunday) and write down small chunks of work for each day. To avoid getting overwhelmed, devote your energy to tackle one thing at a time. And remember working in multiple small chunks of time, 30 minutes for example, can be just as effective, if not more so, then working in long chunks of time.
Be ruthless about eliminating distractions while you work
Put away your phone, turn off notifications, close unnecessary windows or programs on your computer, remove yourself from distracting friends and more. Research shows that multi-tasking decreases your productivity and hinders your focus. Instead, devote your attention to one thing at a time to increase productivity and retention.
Perhaps you use Quizlet or make your own flashcards, or you cover the definition or chart in your book and speak it out loud. Whatever you do, make sure you are ‘testing’ your recall and don’t cheat! You can also quiz yourself by pulling out a blank piece of paper and trying to create your own study guide. What would be included? What concepts are most important? Do your best to create it first without looking – in order to test your recall – and then use your notes and textbook to fill in any gaps you have. This is one of the best ways to learn and test your learning.
Work ahead for the week
Try to work on the week’s assignments ahead of time. Even if you only have 10-20 minutes to preview what is coming and begin to familiarize yourself with vocabulary and concepts. This primes your brain for class because it is already familiar with the content, even if just vaguely. Remember that language is not a one-for-all game and that the more you review the material, several times and spaced out, the more you will retain and the easier the future material will get.
If you do start to fall behind, reach out and ask for help. There is no need to be embarrassed – your instructors know how challenging it is to learn a new language and they want to help you succeed.
Don’t forget to be yourself
As you engage with your instructor and other students, bring your whole self and your personality to class. This will make the experience more fun for everyone and help your instructors get to know you – even in another language!
Looking for more support?
In addition to your instructors, TAs, and tutors, Christy Rotman, College Life Skills Coach, can help with general study strategies and time management tips. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional Helpful Resources
Tips compiled by Hope Fitzgerald (Instructional Designer – Foreign Language Consultant), Dr. Jessie Marroquín (former Spanish Instructor and PhD Student) and Christy Rotman (College Life Skills Coach) from UVA.