Self-instructed language learning does not mean you have to learn alone. Language mentors offer an incredible amount of support and feedback, acting as an anchor as you pursue your own language learning goals. Even so, it isn’t always easy to integrate their suggestions into daily study. While different approaches may work well depending on your learning style, I’ve listed a couple of activities below to show how I’ve been able to successfully integrate my mentor’s feedback into my activities.
Activity 1: Vocabulary Practice
A multi-part activity, my mentor and I used this method to introduce, learn, and practice new vocabulary terms. It involves integrating feedback in real time in a few different ways. First, my mentor would say a term in English and ask me to define it in Hmong; she would provide feedback as I attempted to narrow down my definition to as few words as possible. Because many important Hmong vocab words are actually short phrases (composed of 2-5 smaller words), this method worked well, and we were able to get close to the actual term by working together in this way. Once we’d arrived on the appropriate term, I’d try and use the word in a sentence; here, my mentor would offer grammatical advice, making sure that I understood how to use the term correctly. This was particularly helpful when a term had multiple definitions; for example, I was able to use the Hmong word for “domestic” in a variety of ways, each with its own grammatical structure, following the feedback of my mentor. Finally, after speaking my sentence out loud, my mentor would correct my pronunciation (with emphasis on the new vocab term), ensuring I could actually use the word in practice moving forward! Taken together, the real-time mentor feedback helps smooth out any speed bumps or misconceptions that might arise as I worked through new, unfamiliar words.
Activity 2: Listening and Writing
A more traditional method of integrating my mentor’s feedback, this activity relied on having listened to the same source material. I would write a two-part essay, generally about a page to a page-and-a-half long. The first part would summarize the material, with the second part acting as an opinion piece. Many of the resources we listened to were focused on history or politics, so there was ample opportunity to agree or disagree. In addition to checking my grammar, spelling, and other fundamentals of writing, my mentor would read through the summary section to see if I understood. If I had omitted something important, my mentor would note what I had missed; I would then return to the listening resource to try and identify where and why my comprehension had broken down. Lastly, my mentor would comment on the opinion section; many times, this would take the form of describing a traditional Hmong perspective, particularly on issues where my own perspective missed a key aspect that shaped Hmong perspective on a given situation. Doing so helped me grow my cultural competency, thus making this activity a more well-rounded method of language study.