Study Methods: The Next Step

Once you get to a certain level textbooks stop being all that useful. You know the material inside and out and there’s nothing new or challenging. So what can you do?

It’s pretty straight forward actually… Get your mitts on something real!

In short, things that were written by native speakers for native speakers are the next step. The next level.

These can be broken into a few categories:
– Novels and newspapers
– Audiobooks and news reports
– Movies and television shows
– Language exchange

Novels and Newspapers:
If you’re not all that confident at leaping into the deep end of the pool that is the novel, then you can try children’s book like fairy tales or even some parallel texts. If you don’t know what parallel texts are, they’re basically a book that has your target language on one leaf and a language you know (like English) on the opposite leaf. This lets you read quickly without wearing your dictionary out chasing those words you can’t quite guess the meaning of. They’re pretty nifty if the truth be told.

I love parallel texts and a have a collection of classics such as Mark Twain, Chekhov and Jules Verne. These are beautiful little things that keep me entertained for hours, but truth be told, they are a bridge to help you cross over to the dark side of native level materials.

If you want to try and cross that bridge you can try to use a major work that has been translated. The most popular thing at the moment seems to be something called Harry Potter. Not my cup or tea per se but it is available in just about any language. My personal preference would be for the Chronicles of Narnia – one of my all time favourites – or even Lord of the Rings. And once you’ve managed to enjoy these monsters you’re free to take on any native novels that interest you.

Novels don’t cut it for some people. They find them boring and don’t really like wading through all that flowery description. I can’t blame them. Some writers just can’t write. If it’s not your scene and you have a more serious demeanour then extra extra, grab a newspaper.

A few of you out there probably love the feeling of getting that cheap printing ink all over your fingers. I lean towards just printing news articles off of the internet – they’re free! But as native materials go, the newspaper is it. You’ll be reading about country-specific content that will build your interest and up-to-date information that you can drop into conversation. You’ll be a star.

So, you’ve got something to read… now what do you do with it?

Read it. Obviously. Seriously… Just read it.

My style might not be for you, but give it a go. Here’s what I do:
a) ignore the dictionary. I’m serious. Like I mentioned elsewhere, I try to follow Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development by using material that is about 90% familiar to me.
b) read it in my head. I always understand more in my head than reading aloud.
c) read it aloud… several times. This follows the Repeated Reading research I’m conducting at the moment and how it affects vocabulary acquisition, reading fluency and pronunciation (there’ll be an article on this soon).
d) read it some more… Read it until your understanding doesn’t improve any more. You will notice that you understand something new each time you read through it.

If you are using parallel texts, the only thing I change is at step two. I basically just read it in my head in my target language and then read it in my head in English. This way I can assimilate most of the meaning.

Audiobooks and News Reports:
I shouldn’t really have to say this… but anyway. Just listen to the recording… repeatedly. It’s pretty much the same as reading. The more you listen, the more you will understand.

It’s even better if you have a text that matches the recording. News services like NHK offer a world service that has recording and text to match in several languages. The BBC provides coverage in about 30 languages.

If you have a text to go with the audio, then here’s how I’d use. Basically, I treat it the same way as I treat a dialogue in a textbook, that is:
a) listen to the audio.
b) read through your text.
c) listen again and read along in your head.
d) read along with the audio.

For both of these feel free to take it even further and translate aloud if you have an English version of the text. So.. read Harry Potter in English but say what you’re reading in Turkish or something. Be even better if you record what you’re saying to check for accuracy later!

Movies and Television Shows:
I like to think of these as relaxation more than study.
You have 30 minutes to kill? Watch a drama… I’m addicted to Japanese drama! Find something you enjoy and just watch your passive skills take off. You even absorb quite a few colloquialisms before you know it. If your listening needs a little kick up the butt, put on the subtitles in your target language as well – but only read when you have to or your listening will need more than a kick up the butt!

I don’t really have any advice for watching these kind of things other than enjoy yourself. Don’t push yourself to watch a business report if you have no interest in business reports in your own native language. That would not only be pointless, it be would be downright torture. Find something that you would enjoy normally and chances are that your attention span will be greater. And through paying attention you will understand more… And through understanding more you will stay motivated.

Language Exchange:
Easy to find if you’re learning one of the bigger languages like Japanese or Chinese… not so easy if you’re learning Basque.

Firstly, this shouldn’t really feel like studying but more like just socialising. Secondly, the trick is to find someone that can help you. And finally, I have to say this – I hate language exchanges that treat try to behave like you’re in a professional relationship. By that I mean, you are teacher-student… you sit down with a textbook and go over grammar drills with each other. No siree, not for me.

I can’t meet someone continually if our personalities don’t match. I’m not out there to just use a person for language practice because if that were the case, I can go to the supermarket and talk to just about anyone for that. Actually… I already do that but that’s besides the point.

So, my first criteria for a quality language exchange is the possibility of friendship. After that, it’s better if you can find someone that will help you the most, which luckily, will work both ways in my opinion.

My idea is that if you have a low level then you are better with a person of a higher level and if you have a higher level then you are better with a person of a lower level.


Well, if you have a low level and the other has a low level, you can’t communicate. If you both have a higher level, you compete for language dominance. But if you’re abilities are diverse, the lower level student will learn things they need help with and the higher level student will have language practice.

Lastly… don’t forget about Skype. It’s even better than in-person exchanges sometimes because you can type as well. Just search for users with your target language, someone is almost certainly available for a quick chat.

I have to say that these aren’t things exclusively for intermediate or advanced students. Many people have used variations of these ideas from the very beginning of their language learning with great success – remember Kato Lomb and how she reads from the very beginning? There have also been some hot debates about the Listening-Reading Method, which is using parallel texts in conjunction with audio as the backbone of your learning.

Personally, I feel that the Listening-Reading Method has limitations (you’ll be able to read about that soon when the article for L-R is online!) but that’s just me. Others swear by it because that’s how they learn best. Everyone is an individual remember and a Multiple Attack with an open mind is better than burying yourself with stubbornness.


Author: Andrew

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