It's the same thing every semester - although I'm preaching to learn regularly, the students panic before the test and try to memorize as much as possible. Though memorizing is also part of language learning, it shouldn't be the sole one. Language is tricky to learn, because it's both - knowledge and skill.
In this post, I want to give some advices on learning vocab and practicing language in a foreign language environment.
Knowledge can be memorized, if necessary - however, I always tried to understand rather than to memorize. So, when it comes to new vocab, memorizing (might) work. But, there is always limited capacity. Memorizing a shopping list with ten items is piece of cake and can be done in few minutes. Learning 100 words, however, is somewhat different.
When it comes to vocab, small steps are better than big leaps. Rehearse and learn all words, you encountered in class right after it. So, you probably have to learn only 10 words. Review the vocab of a chapter, after we had finished it. Start learning for a test early. Actually, you'll realize that it's not very tough, as it's only revision. Stop learning the night before the test and get a good night sleep.
Language - use it or lose it, or: Use the language as often as possible
As mentioned above, language is also a skill. Would you start practicing riding a bike the night before a race. No. The same with driving a car, no one would offer you a course, where you get practical training in driving the day before the exam only.
The reason is that both are skills. Riding a bike requires practice balancing on two wheels (actually, doing adjustments of the handle bar continuously, so you are balanced) and keep upright while accelerating and breaking. Driving a car requires smooth movements of feet and legs and the development of habits like looking in the mirror before changing the lane.
Language also needs practice. And I don't mean doing fill-in-the-gap exercises, they are important though. Using the language in everyday life is tricky, if the language is not spoken in the country you are staying in. So, how can you practice the "skill part" of language? Here are some suggestions
Use - if possible - German when talking to other students learning German
Very early in class, you will learn expressions, how to introduce yourself. So, if you meet other students who learn German, use these expressions when telling your name, telephone number, email address etc. For this, the expressions given in the textbook are quite useful.
Mingle with Germans
No, you don't have to go to lunch with me. But there are German-speaking exchange students. Ask the club of students with interest in German, they have contact.
Listen to German radio, watch German TV
There are a number of Internet radio stations, ask your lecturers, which one they can suggest.
Deutsche Welle can be received in Singapore (cable TV), but also has audio streams (see their website) and a youtube channel. You might not understand everything, but the more you are learning the better your understanding will get.
Listen to German music, a list of artists can be found here: http://www.martin-doepel.de/blog/2008/07/01/use-german-music-to-get-into/
Use German in everyday life
Writing a shopping lists, counting, writing notes for oneself or status updates on Facebook - all these things can be done in German.
There are many more ways, you might share them in the commentaries.
Problems during class
There are also practical issues to mind. In our language classes, the content usually builds up on each other. It's like a wall made out of bricks. The row in the bottom holds the second, which holds the third and so on. So, if you haven't learnt the content, you'll have problems to understand some issues later. That's true for all subjects, by the way.
Another thing is that we assume, you know the vocab. So, we've planned a nice game for you to practice the vocab, you were exposed the lecture before. If you haven't learnt the vocab, the whole game is pointless, boring and unsatisfying for all - yourself, your fellow students and for us teachers.
One final note: The best reason to learn is not a test, but because it's fun and interesting.
I hope, I got the message across.
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