What Studying Language at University has Taught Me about Self-Study

For the past semester I’ve been studying Polish at university  and it’s been a great to experience learning a language in a tertiary context. The unit was external, so primarily consisted of self-directed study, listening to mp3’s and completing set exercises, along with a 30-40 minute consultation with the lecturer each week.

After a short 3 months I’m amazed at how much I’ve actually learnt and I’ve taken away a lot of new ideas on how to improve my own Korean self-study methods, and perhaps you might get some inspiration too!

Ensure you thoroughly understand the key points of the lesson before moving on

Ever gotten into an intense study session and learnt a bunch of new grammar points just to forget them quickly? I know I have. As my Polish lecturer always stresses during the drills on the mp3 – If you aren’t comfortable with using the new material, repeat and revise it further before moving on. It’s always better to be confident with a few language structures than to know many very poorly!

Revise, Revise, Revise

Without regular revision of past material, you forget information very quickly as it’s not committed to your long term memory. Studying Polish has required me to stay on top of all the material covered, so each week I’ve consistently gone back over previous lessons, so eventually I just need to glance over a past lesson and my brain immediately goes ‘Oh yeah I know this.’ Spaced repetition can also be a great technique – I’ve just gotten into using Anki, which worked great for Polish, so I’m going to start using it for Korean as well.

For more on the memory retention, see this interesting article on the Curve of Forgetting.

Active Recall vs Passive Learning

Active recall is a far more efficient form of learning than passive learning – i.e. answering questions, speaking practice vs reading a textbook or study notes. Active recall helps you practice your language skills and assists in consolidating your long-term memory. I used to dread my consultations with the Polish professor as he’d ask me all these questions but I couldn’t sneak a look at my notes, but he explained the process of recalling the information from memory is a hugely effective learning strategy and helps you remember the information in the long term.

Listening and Speaking skills

Listening and speaking skills can be neglected while self-studying a language if you’re not careful, and they are by far my weakest areas. Studying Polish at uni however forced me to refine these skills as I was going to have oral test later in the semester. So make sure you don’t forget about listening and speaking, maybe find a Korean friend to practice with, make videos or record yourself speaking Korean.

So what does this all mean for my Korean self-study? I’ve re-evaluated many of my learning strategies and hopefully will see the results in the future.

Have you studied a language at university or school? How did it change you view on self-study methods?


4 thoughts on “What Studying Language at University has Taught Me about Self-Study

  1. Ohikulkija says:

    Anki is a really good program – common, light and free too! I have known about it for few years but have been pretty lazy at using it. If you have time and interest I think you should share decks for the word lists you make. Just one download and people could start learning them!

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