Active Learning and Language

Let us first dissect the word active learning. The ‘active’ portion is meant to signify how your mind is fully concentrated on the subject matter. This is most often achieved by having the learner participate somehow with what they are learning and maintaining a higher level of focus with interesting subject matter. An example of the opposite, passive learning, would be a university lecture where the student is simply listening and taking notes. Most likely this student is not able to maintain a higher level of focus and mental involvement with the material. This is due to their lack of involvement both in the physical, communicative sense (raising their hand, answering questions in class, discussing subject matter with the professor or another student) and mental sense (going over what they have learned mentally and applying a context specific situation to the material that relates it to something memorable to themselves). ‘Learning’ in the context of learning a language would be the act of committing vocabulary and grammar principles of a language to short term and long term memory along with the ability to recall this information when needed. It also would involve the training of the body (mouth, tongue, vocal cords, etc.) to pronounce the words and relaying this to muscle memory. So active learning is the effort to keep your mind focused and involved with the subject matter so that you can increase the amount of information committed to memory.

Contemporary examples of active learning are as follows; class discussions, laboratories, student projects, self-reflection, case studies and peer review.

Becoming an active learner is relatively difficult because our minds are naturally inclined to wander from topic to topic. This is especially true when trying to concentrate on subject matter that does not interest us. Our minds are very complex. A single word heard during a lecture could bring forth a memory or a daydream. Everything we see, hear, smell or feel can trigger our minds to go in a different path and it only takes an instant. In order to become an active learner you must train your mind to focus on the material by actively participating in the processing of the information at hand. In other words you have to use the task at hand to consume all of your focus and brainpower. Let’s say that you wish to memorize the word to eat in German (essen). You would not only try to pair the word with its definition in your mind but also try to formulate different sentences and situations using the word to help with memorization. You would speak the word out loud, while picturing yourself eating a food you like or even picturing a bunch of people eating. Whatever would best represent ‘to eat’ in your mind. You could also practice speaking the word out loud, writing the word down and picture yourself eating simultaneously. What you are doing is actively involving your mind to process this information. The most important thing is to relate the information you wish to memorize to something important to you or to something that interests you.

Interest level is essentially what the concept of active learning revolves around. When you are highly interested in the subject matter it takes little to no effort to focus the entirety of your mind onto it. Those that enjoy cooking can easily focus their minds on a cooking show and soak up the information and techniques being shown to them. Those that are not interested in cooking watch the same show and immediately their minds start to wander. The question is, how do you force yourself become more interested? How does this all relate to the learning of a language?

Learning vocabulary is always the most uninteresting and unsuccessful part of learning a language. There have been many cases of spending long hours looking up vocabulary words, writing them down on vocabulary sheets or notecards and endlessly rifling through them. You eventually ‘learn’ the vocabulary for the upcoming quiz or test and promptly forget it thereafter. How can you become interested in learning vocabulary and retain more information?

The only real way to have a higher level of interest is to consistently relate the information you are learning to yourself and create reasons why this information will be useful to you and your success. If you do this then you will automatically be more interested in the subject matter. With this increased level of interest you will have also increased the amount of information you commit to long term memory. For example, say that a person really does not have any interest in sports. So this person is naturally going to drift off when a sports game is on. They will go on their phone, try to talk throughout the game about something unrelated or simply stare at the television screen and zone out. At their current level of interest it is doubtful they will even remember who was playing or what the final score ended up being. What could this person do to try to increase their interest level?

Example 1: Try to relate the information to something that will benefit you

The person not interested in the sports game should analyze their daily life and look for ways that this information could benefit them. Let us say for instance that this person works with other individuals (maybe even their boss or their boss’s boss) who are very keen on sports. If they went into watching this sports game with that in mind they would automatically have a higher level of interest. You could then try to retain the key players, key events and key scores so that you could discuss them with your boss or coworkers the next day. Ultimately, you do not care about the sports game. However, you created a mental situation that increased the importance of the sports information. You made this information interesting because its knowledge could benefit you down the line.

Example 2: Try to relate the information to something you do care about

The person does not care about sports but the person is interested in clothing. They could approach analyzing the game with their interests in mind. Aaron Rodger’s, threw for a touch-down and seems to prefer Under Armour where Jay Cutler is all about the North Face gear. Oh the full-back just tore through the defensive line and appears to be thrilled with his neon orange Nike cleats. Connecting key information to something you are interested in helps with memory retention. Even though this person will most likely not retain as much pertinent information as the individual who truly is interested in the subject matter, it will serve as an improvement.

Example 3: Involve yourself and participate with people who DO find the information interesting

Participation in discussions with those who are interested. Even if YOU aren’t interested, you will go over the information, analyze what is said and come up with something good to say so that your words can hold up during conversation. Throughout this entire process you will be taking more information to memory and automatically be more interested in the material. Even if it means simply asking thoughtful questions for others to answer, this participation promotes mental awareness

How do we propose to increase vocabulary memorization and promote active learning?

We promote active learning by having a follow along vocabulary lesson. The necessity of following along with the vocabulary and having to try to pronounce words you may be unfamiliar with will keep your mind active and interested in the material. The timing of the lesson also does not allow for much other than listening, visualizing and speaking the vocabulary words. This consistent flow and speed of the lesson is meant to promote quick thinking and quick pronunciation. At first you will not be able to keep up with some terms and phrases due to their difficulty in pronunciation. This challenge is what will keep your mind involved with the material.

The lessons actively involve visual, auditory and muscle memory. You will be hearing the vocabulary, participating in the pronunciation of the vocabulary and can visually represent the vocabulary either with flashcards included or with your mind’s eye. The inter-connectedness of these types of lessons will ultimately increase memory retention.

The vocabulary is also separated into categories that provide familiar contexts to all of the terms. Due to this it will be much easier to relate the words, actions and phrases to yourself in a way that will create a longer lasting memory.

The lessons can and should also be used when studying with multiple people as a student or when trying to improve your children’s language skills. The follow along practice with other individuals will create unique, fun and sometimes hilarious learning situations from which you will all learn more than traditional methods.

In conclusion, our efforts to promote the active learning of vocabulary has resulted in Quick Vocab™. These lessons demand active participation by speaking along with the vocabulary lessons. The challenging format of the lesson will keep all of your senses engaged with the material and increase overall memorization. This fast engagement will mimic the level of mental activity necessary to communicate with others. The words are provided in a category that gives them context, this context is yet another mental connection that can help with vocabulary recall. Above all else would be the possibility to buy a lesson and utilize it in group practice with others. The group practice would create a social environment around the lesson that would maximize its effectiveness.

The rest is up to you to relate the information to something that is meaningful to you. We give you the information, a way to participate, the context of the vocabulary and the involvement of your senses.

Check out our Spanish vocabulary lessons and prepare yourself for the unveiling of Quick Vocab™ German in the next couple of weeks.

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Pamphlet – Created by University of Michigan Professors – Active Learning Techniques

I would definitely recommend giving this a read. It summarizes many techniques that will help the average person increase their awareness of what active learning is and how to implement it into their studying and learning habits.

Article – Journal of Engineering Education –

This is a good article that analyzes the research being done on the effectiveness of active learning. This will give you a better idea of what research results should be considered valid for many of the different types of active learning. After reading this, you will be more aware of what techniques appear to be more effective than others.

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