Foreign Language Practice – Higher necessity means higher understanding and retention

By | April 14, 2014

The effectiveness of foreign language practice depends on part on how pressing of a need there is to communicate and understand correctly.

When speaking with a native or fluent speaker of that language, there are all sorts of emotions that get engaged and one usually tries his or her hardest to comprehend and speak in a way that can be easily understood. Making mistakes can be embarrassing, or even lead to more serious repercussions depending on the context of the conversation.

For those who don’t have much contact with native speakers, you do may do like I do and try to consume all different sorts of content – novels, comic books, newspapers, videos, blogs, you name it. All of these can be excellent learning resources, but there typically is no strong motivation to understand each and every word, and any misunderstandings may go undiscovered, especially if the subject is fiction and not grounded to the real world.

One way to inject some necessity into your foreign language practice is to use material in that language when trying to research or learn about another topic. For example, the other day I had to do some research on JSON (a lightweight data interchange format used in software development), and I decided on reading on the spec document in Japanese first, which you can see here. That helped me to learn a few new words and really stretched my comprehension to the limit since there were some difficult sentences.

Another idea is to set your desktop computer’s or mobile device’s operating systems to use the language you are studying. At first it will be frustrating since it will take effort to do something simple like find the brightness control, but the more you traverse the menus the more you’ll get quick at reading the various words, and you’ll gain some new vocabulary words in the process.

You can also read product owner manuals in that language, and when you are trying to solve a problem you’ll have a strong incentive to deeply understand what the text is trying to communicate. Even better, if you have to do training for your job you can peruse the training materials in your foreign language of choice (if that edition exists), and double check any difficult passages in the English edition.

All of these tasks can be pretty challenging if you are a beginner to the foreign language in question, but for any skill level I recommend trying these at least once to get a taste – you may find it addicting!





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