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How to teach/learn a foreign language - some methods that work

The best overall method for teaching a foreign language is teaching the student to ask questions in that language. Take a look at some of the common questions in Serbian and English and you'll get an idea.

But before the student is able to ask questions in a foreign language, s/he must go through some (painful) learning phases (ouch!) The first such a phase is the most difficult one because it requires enormous amounts of memorization and rote learning. It is this phase that causes many people to give up.

A good teaching method is thus to avoid bombarding the language learner with abstract grammar rules and extensive vocabulary, but rather, to use contextual devices to achieve the goal of imitation and memorization. I usually introduce only that vocabulary which is practical and most frequently used in everyday communication, for example, verbs like kupiti 'buy', videti 'see', jesti 'eat', spavati 'sleep', ici 'go'. I introduce such words into grammar rules which I'm teaching. I also bring everyday objects into the class and refer to them or use them in an appropriate context (e.g. a phone, food items, street maps, a newspaper). Also, I found that the learning new words form the bilingual dictionaries intended for kids - with pictures, is faster and less painful than just memorizing words from a textual list.

The second phase involves using learned vocabulary and grammar rules in actual conversation. It is in this phase that I emphasize pronunciation.

Throughout language training I give a lot of homework assignments. However, instead of assigning boring, fill-in drills, I tell the students to write two to three sentences of their own choosing every day. These sentences must contain grammar items that are presented in class. For instance, if we just learned about present tense conjugation, my students would write sentences in the present tense about their daily habits. It is amazing how simple, but effective this method is.

Although learning a foreign language is difficult (see the anecdote), I recommend it to everyone. It is useful, rewarding and enriching.

Have fun!