How to Study When You are Ready to Really Study

While whole academic careers and bagfuls of dissertations have been built upon trying to sort out the best way to learn a language, here are some things that worked for us. *

* Your mileage may vary.

  • Learn from a native speaker. With few notable exceptions, anyone who did not grow up speaking a language is unlikely to have the same pronunciation, intuitive sense of the right word choice (write, inscribe, compose, forge, create, scribble, draft, jot, note) and all the other stuff that separates say Mari's Japanese from my own. It is tempting to go with a non-native speaker as an instructor (and the input of someone who knows your language explaining what is different about the target language is indeed valuable), but you just can't beat a native.
  • We've had a lot of luck in the early stages of study with the dialogue method, where as students we memorized a set of sentence like a play. We had a chance to take a bite of the pronunciation, and knew that the dialogue sentence were grammatically perfect and thus could be recycled endlessly abroad. Dialogues whoop memorized phrases because they include a context, as well as Q&A. At some more advanced point you'll need to say goodbye to the dialogues but early on, or if you are just going to study for a short time, they can help.
  • Different people feel better or worse about listening to tapes. I like tapes as an addition to the native speaker in a classroom, but do not like them for much more than a review tool. Others prefer them as an introduction to new vocabulary. Tapes require more of your time, not too much trouble if you listen in the car during a long commute, harder if your study time at home is short and often interrupted, and most of the uninterrupted time you have to spend on learning Greek is the two hours a week in class.
  • Get a dictionary you can use, and one that fits your goals. For long term study, maybe you need one of those monster door stop editions with the words for toenail, toggle bolt, tempest and tin, but for a short course followed by a short trip something less comprehensive but easier to carry might be a better idea.
  • The same goes for textbooks, phrasebooks and the like. Think weight, think ease of use, think matching the book(s) you chose to the level of study you can realistically hope to accomplish.

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