Soussou Language

Tips For Summer Language Learning (In-Situ)

This is going to be a set of language learning tips for summer language learning through the MULTI language program. Although this program is usually for distance learners, because of my own personal experience this summer, I am going to make tips that are specifically geared toward an audience of in-situ learners. I will also do my best to describe some tips that are likely going to be helpful for this who are trying to balance in-situ work with online coursework–which can often be overwhelming and challenging, but is doable with the right mental and instructional preparation.


Preparing for the Summer:

  1. The first important tip for this course would be simply making sure that you are well in place to take on the coursework that is required in the MULTI course, especially as an in-situ learner. Because the in-situ experience can be overwhelming, try to remember that there is a space where you have more control–namely, the online space, where you will do your best to transform your experiences in the world into something that is more orderly. This is not a small task but be prepared to find a way to bridge these two spaces. It will be very important.
  2. An essential tip as well would be to make sure that you have the right equipment and preparation before the course begins. This includes correct email addresses, access to websites like VoiceThreads and PressBook, and consistent wifi. While these things seem straightforward, in an in-situ experience, these can be large hurdles to language learning and keeping up with coursework, as I personally found this summer. If you are able to take care of these before leaving for your language study, make sure to do so.
  3. Make sure to be clear about which language resources you have at your disposal to scaffold your learning. This includes textbooks, dictionaries, online resources, and the like. While this may seem like an easy task, depending on the language that is being learned, having a lack of these resources can pose a significant challenge. Try to be honest upfront both with yourself and with your instructor about any difficulties that might arise in relation to a lack of these resources and try to familiarize yourself with what is out there before you start.


Working with your Language Mentor:

  1. Try to make sure that you create a language learning environment that is, as much as possible, in the language that you are trying to learn. That means that regardless of whatever if your go-between language that you fall back on (for example, to learn grammatical constructions, communicate complex ideas, etc), try to stick in the target language to be learned as much as possible. Make sure to keep the language at an appropriate level, but make sure that you are aware and upfront about doing this as much as possible in language spaces.
  2. Create a good rapport or relationship with your language mentor (and/or teacher) before the summer starts. Language learning is a vulnerable space in more ways than one, and working with someone you find kind, and someone you feel comfortable with will go a long way in your being able to make mistakes, stumble, and find your way together. Make sure that your learning styles work well together (and that you’re aware of what best works for you as a language learner).


Studying on Your Own:

  1. Be consistent. No matter what happens, you need to try to be consistent every day, even if it is not continuous. There are always opportunities to learn, especially within an in-situ context. Take advantage of all of them, as best as you can. Use your greetings to say hello to people or goodbye to people. Say thank you. Spend time actively listening as much as you can to pick out words or phrases when and where you can. Take notes and label things around your house. Bring a notebook so you can jot down new phrases or words that you learn. These are the fundamentals of learning a new language.
  2. Remember that there will be challenges. Learning a new language isn’t easy, but you can’t let that stop you. For example, there can be difficulty balancing everything that you need to do, including course work, research, language learning, religious commitments, family commitments, etc. Make sure to recognize that things will get done, and that you can find ways to balance. However, remember step one–you cannot give up, even if there are delays. The challenges will often provide openings as well. If you have no wifi, remember that there is now expanded time to talk with people. You can take notes by hand, and you might not even have recourse to a dictionary if you have one online.
  3. Never stop reviewing. Language learning is not linear, as much as we want it to be. Often times, we can see language learning as a fully cumulative process. It is something that just builds and builds, but is always propelled in a single direction: forward. However, language learning isn’t like that at all. In fact, it is much more like a spiral. As you learn, you have to go back and re-learn, and re-learn and revisit older concepts, and refresh your memories. There is nothing wrong with going back time and again to the basics, and making sure to drill in those things that make your language so unique. You won’t always be able to learn a whole new lesson, but often, you’ll be able to take in small pieces and use those to build forward, and rather than gaining a new breadth of knowledge, you can use it to expand the depth of how the language is used.


In-Situ Tips:

  1. Your language is alive. Remember that all around you your language will be being used. Listening might be your best friend during this time. Even if you don’t understand, take time just to listen, in every space that you can. Don’t play on your phone, don’t zone out on your transit rides. Take time to actively listen. Hear how the language moves. Understand how words are pronounced (and not pronounced). Allow yourself to practice, but remember that there is almost no limit to the amount of times and places that your language can be used.
  2. Don’t be scared. There will be numerous times that you will have the ability to interact with language users/native speakers who you might never see again. Take those times to go out on a limb if you feel comfortable. In the reverse, you can also try to establish close relationships with people in your community who will become less-formal language mentors. These will be people who will want to see you succeed, and who you might be able to practice with and learn from on a less formal basis. Remember that this web of resources is going to help scaffold much of your language learning.
  3. Messing up is part of the process. You’re going to get it wrong sometimes. You’re going to have to switch back to whatever the common language you’re using is, and that’s okay. But at the same time, remember the other advice, and try to stick in the target language you’re learning as much as you can. But don’t beat yourself up. Language learning, as noted, is a spiral, complete with numerous cyclical patterns. You’ll inevitably mess up and make mistakes, but you need to be open to hearing the feedback from all sides and trying to do better. This will only make you a stronger language learner.
  4. Finally, remember that the feedback you get comes from a place of love and respect. Generally, people wouldn’t take the time to give you feedback if they didn’t have a certain stake in your language learning process. Do what you can to listen to this feedback and take it as seriously as you can. This can be overwhelming sometimes, but make sure that you remember and try to take it in the spirit in which it was offered.


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Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages Copyright © by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.