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Posts Tagged ‘techniques’

Language Learning - Mnemonic Devices

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Mnemonic devices are powerful tools for learning a foreign language. A mnemonic device is a word or sequence of words or images used as an aid to memory. The idea behind mnemonics is that meaningful information is easier to remember than arbitrary data. Words in a foreign language actually are not arbitrary, as they follow rules that are unique to that language. However, they can seem arbitrary to someone who is unfamiliar with the language system.
Word linking is one common mnemonic. This involves connecting words in your own language to words in the foreign language you are learning. For example, you could remember the Latin noun mensa, which means “table”, by picturing a table with a lot of men sitting around it. Or the Latin verb pugnare, which means “to fight”, could be associated with an image of a fighter with a pug nose in the boxing ring.

One ancient technique for remembering information is called The Roman Room. To use this mnemonic, imagine a room you know. Associate objects you visualize in the room with the information you want to remember. For example, to remember the French word for “boat”, bateau, associate bateau with a baseball bat learning in the corner of your room. To recall lumiere, the French noun meaning “light”, you could picture a weaver’s loom next to the lamp, beside the bat. Then you could imagine an elegantly dressed chap wearing a hat sitting at a table by the lamp to help you remember chapeau, the French word for “hat”.
Often the sounds of words you are learning can themselves remind you of similar words in English. These related words are called derivatives. Using derivatives as a mnemonic can be so easy, it almost feels like you are cheating! Illustrating with the same words from the example of the Roman Room technique, you could remember lumiere by thinking of the moon, shining with a luminous, golden light. And a chapeau is just a cap with a few extra letters added.

The practice of using of mnemonics is not without criticism. One drawback to mnemonics is that, if you can’t remember the device itself, it is useless. However, it is widely accepted that mnemonics are helpful tools for learning, because of the fact that mnemonics are not arbitrary data but are, instead, meaningful information.

When it comes to mnemonics, use whatever works for you! Any mental image you can conjure to help you remember a new word is fine, as long as it is vivid in your mind’s eye. The better you can visualize it, the easier it will be to remember.

Second Language Learning Methods - Direct Method (Berlitz)

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

The Direct Method of learning a language involves a non-communicative way that uses target/L2 language, which is a step by step and limited process that considers the correct translation to be of the most importance.

The method was developed by Maximilian Berlitz, who migrated from Germany to the United States in 1872. His initial intention was to teach different languages using the traditional grammar approach. However, hiring a French assistant changed his perspective entirely.

The Berlitz Story

Berlitz hired an instructor to teach to his students, but when he hired the assistant, he found out that the Frenchman did not speak any English. However, when Beriltz had to go on sick leave, he left the Frenchman, Nicholas Joly, in charge of his classroom and asked him to do his best teaching language to the students.

Surprisingly, Berlitz came back to the classroom expecting a disaster and found out that his students were actively interacting with Joly and had progressed even further than they would have done learning the material using a nontraditional method.

The teacher communicated with the student through miming and gesturing. Grammar is not the essential goal because students were later able to discover grammatical rules on their own.

It was at this point that Berlitz realized that the innovative technique used by Joly was more successful and stimulating. The process used the target language of native speakers.

There are different levels of learning Berlitz’s direct method, which includes certain initial assessments to see where the student fits in:

  1. The Functional level: limits communication in its simplest form both orally and by listening.
  2. Intermediate level: conversing in English and understanding familiar topics of discussion.
  3. Advanced Intermediate level: competent communication and comfort with speaking the English Language in a professional and personal setting.
  4. Advanced level: speak English proficiently
  5. Native Speaker: Speak English naturally or at a professional level

The underlying principle of using the target language will enable the student to use inductive or deductive reasoning for identifying grammatical rules without having to provide an explanation of the rules that are used. The Berlitz method combines both the direct and the audio-lingual approach combining listening and speaking and later reading and writing.


The academic and intellectual world may see this method as being quite unusual and nontraditional. However, the direct method is considered by many to be more adaptive and popular with students who wanted to learn a foreign language without having to be too concerned about grammatical translation.