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6 Science-Supported Tips for Learning a New Language

6 Science-Supported Tips for Learning a New Language

Learning a new language is one of the most challenging but also most rewarding things a person can do. It makes a perfect New Year’s resolution because it is tough, will expand your horizons, and is really easy to give up on. You don’t have to fight the battle alone, however. Science is in your corner and researchers are hard at work finding out what works and what doesn’t in the quest to learn a new language.

1. Relax

If your decision to learn a new language is motivated by needing it for your job or preparing for a fast-approaching trip, the whole enterprise can become very stressful. As the days tick away and you move at a snail’s pace through the material for your new language you might become overwhelmed and frustrated. None of this will help you. Research from the Journal of Neuroscience has shown that relaxation is a key component in your ability to learn anything, languages in particular. So put your feet up, crack a beer, and laugh a little. Reducing anxiety will go a long way to helping you achieve your goal.

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2. Mix things up

Another thing that has been shown to offer a real boost to learning a new language is to be flexible in your strategies. In other words, don’t spend hour after hour pouring over textbooks, or listening to audiotapes, or doing online tests. Instead, do all three. while you’re at it, watch movies and television shows in your chosen language. The Electronic Journal for English as a Second Language advises that using multiple strategies will improve your effectiveness.

3. Stay motivated

Science also tells us that a person’s motivation to learn is usually a great predictor of their success. It only makes sense that the more driven you are to keep studying, the harder you will try and the more you will accomplish. This is supported by research in the Journal of Language Learning. So make language learning into a competition with your friend or partner. Give yourself incentives, like chocolate for every test you score over 90% on. Pretty soon you will be a new language dynamo.

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4. Immerse yourself

Studies cited in the Review of Educational Research point towards immersion as another great strategy in picking up a new language. Find places you can go where you can interact with as many native speakers of your new language as possible. Watch movies, read books, and listen to the radio in the language you are trying to learn. Going back to the first tip, it will certainly help you relax if you know you will probably get a whole lot better as soon as you leave for your trip.

5. Negotiate

If your quest for language immersion takes you into shops where you can interact with native speakers of the new language you are learning, maybe try bartering to get a better price on whatever they try to sell you. According to the Journal of Language Learning, negotiation is a very effective way to get better at a new language. Negotiation forces you to quickly comprehend words and phrases and keeps you motivated to get the best possible outcome.

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6. Flex your memory muscles

Finally, don’t be afraid to force some vocabulary learning by using memory techniques to help you along. Research in the Journal of Turkish Science Education argues that mnemonic devices are a great way to link words you are trying to learn to ones you already know. To borrow an example from the website MindTools.com, if you are trying to learn the French word for a rug or carpet (tapis) it might be helpful to picture a nice Persian rug with a tap popping up in the middle of it.

Featured photo credit: Les Editeurs cafe/Dan via flickr.com

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Last Updated on May 22, 2019

The Pomodoro Technique: Is It Right for You to Boost Productivity?

The Pomodoro Technique: Is It Right for You to Boost Productivity?

If you spend any time at all researching life hacks, you’ve probably heard of the famous Pomodoro Technique.

Created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is one of the more popular time management life hacks used today. But this method isn’t for everyone, and for every person who is a passionate adherent of the system, there is another person who is critical of the results.

Is the Pomodoro Technique right for you? It’s a matter of personal preference. But if you are curious about the benefits of using the technique, this article will break down the basic information you will need to decide if this technique is worth trying out.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management philosophy that aims to provide the user with maximum focus and creative freshness, thereby allowing them to complete projects faster with less mental fatigue.

The process is simple:

For every project throughout the day, you budget your time into short increments and take breaks periodically.

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You work for 25 minutes, then take break for five minutes.

Each 25-minute work period is called a “pomodoro”, named after the Italian word for tomato. Francesco Cirillo used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato as his personal timer, and thus the method’s name.

After four “pomodoros” have passed, (100 minutes of work time with 15 minutes of break time) you then take a 15-20 minute break.

Every time you finish a pomodoro, you mark your progress with an “X”, and note the number of times you had the impulse to procrastinate or switch gears to work on another task for each 25-minute chunk of time.

How the Pomodoro Technique boosts your productivity

Frequent breaks keep your mind fresh and focused. According to the official Pomodoro website, the system is easy to use and you will see results very quickly:

“You will probably begin to notice a difference in your work or study process within a day or two. True mastery of the technique takes from seven to twenty days of constant use.”

If you have a large and varied to-do list, using the Pomodoro Technique can help you crank through projects faster by forcing you to adhere to strict timing.

Watching the timer wind down can spur you to wrap up your current task more quickly, and spreading a task over two or three pomodoros can keep you from getting frustrated.

The constant timing of your activities makes you more accountable for your tasks and minimizes the time you spend procrastinating.

You’ll grow to “respect the tomato”, and that can help you to better handle your workload.

Successful people who love it

Steven Sande of The Unofficial Apple Weblog is a fan of the system, and has compiled a great list of Apple-compatible Pomodoro tools.

Before he started using the technique, he said,

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“Sometimes I couldn’t figure out how to organize a single day in my calendar, simply because I would jump around to all sorts of projects and never get even one of them accomplished.”

Another proponent of the Pomodoro Technique is Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal. Shellenbarger tried out this system along with several other similar methods for time management, and said,

“It eased my anxiety over the passing of time and also made me more efficient; refreshed by breaks, for example, I halved the total time required to fact-check a column.”

Any cons for the Pomodoro Technique?

Despite the number of Pomodoro-heads out there, the system isn’t without its critics. Colin T. Miller, a Yahoo! employee and blogger, tried using the Pomodoro Technique and had some issues:[1]

“Pomodoros are an all or nothing affair. Either you work for 25 minutes straight to mark your X or you don’t complete a pomodoro. Since marking that X is the measurable sign of progress, you start to shy away from engaging in an activity if it won’t result in an X. For instance…meetings get in the way of pomodoros. Say I have a meeting set for 4:30pm. It is currently 4:10pm, meaning I only have 20 minutes between now and the meeting…In these instances I tend to not start a pomodoro because I won’t have enough time to complete it anyway.”

Another critic is Mario Fusco, who argues that the Pomodoro Technique is…well…sort of ridiculous:[2]

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“Aren’t we really able to keep ourselves concentrated without a timer ticketing on our desk?… Have you ever seen a civil engineer using a timer to keep his concentration while working on his projects?… I think that, like any other serious professional, I can stay concentrated on what I am doing for hours… Bring back your timer to your kitchen and start working in a more professional and effective way.”

Conclusion

One of the best things about the Pomodoro Technique is that it’s free. Yeah, you can fork over some bills to get a tomato-shaped timer if you want… or you can use any timer program on your computer or phone. So even if you try it and hate it, you haven’t lost any cash.

The process isn’t ideal for every person, or in any line of work. But if you need a systematic way to tackle your daily to-do list, the Pomodoro Technique may fit your needs.

If you want to learn more about the Pomodoro Technique, check out this article: How to Make the Pomodoro Technique More Productive

Reference

[1] Aspirations of a Software Developer: A Month of the Pomodoro Technique
[2] InfoQ: A Critique of the Pomodoro Technique

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