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What are your most effective study techniques?

These are some of the ways that I try to make my language study as effective as possible. These techniques can be used with any language, but since I am studying Italian at this time, I”ll talk about them in relation to my Italian.

1) I watch the news until I have seen the top headlines (RAI), with the goal of writing down 20 new words or phrases from either the broadcaster’s word use, or the headline scrawl.


This is incredibly effective because I have a feel for the news topics, based on the visuals, and I am physically writing down the words (a particular area of the brain is used). By the time I look them up, I have had to correct or pay attention to the spelling (another brain area), as I wrote the word, and then as I typed. Today my words/phrases were: a bordo (on board), sovraffollata (overcrowded), ipotesi (hypothetical), attentato (attack), esculude (excluded), glielo (him), scattato (tripped), incontra (meets), i dubbi (doubts), su ipotesi (on assumptions), il temp sta finendo (time is running out), in uscita (output), scontro (clash), scossa di terremoto (shock of earthquake), la sfida (the challenge), fiducia (confidence), danni (damage), manovra (maneuver), se non passa cade governo (if it does not pass, the government falls). lo schiaffo (the slap), and lo porto (the port), which also happens to be the last name of the aid worker killed by a US drone, from Italy, held hostage in a targeted camp which confused me all day until I saw the story on the English news.

A word like “sovraffollata” is not intuitive, but since it was associated with the story of an immigrant smuggling ship that capsized, and was one of the causes of the tragedy, the word has an anchor that makes it hard to forget.

Another great thing about this technique is that yesterday's headlines spill over to the next day, and since you've now looked up those words, they get reinforced.

2) I listen to a podcast, translate it with the help of an on-line translator. I then play the podcast again and speak along with the podcaster (the best I can). I then attempt to translate without the on-line translator, and finally work with the translation to generate the original language. This particular exercise is exhausting, and the difficulty of each exercise segment increases as I progress. Even though the material becomes more and more familiar to me, the expertise I have to apply is steadily more challenging. Another reason this protocol is so effective, is that it works all of your brain’s language centers. I use podcasts from this site:


The reason for this particular podcast site, other than the fact that they have multiple language podcasters, is that you can click any sentence of the text, and the MP3 automatically cues itself at that point. This allows you to play a sentence over and over, to discover the subtle sounds of the native speaker. This was particularly helpful with French.

3) Process a room. Walk into a room with a pad of sticky notes and state the noun for everything you see. Take your time. Make believe you are a crime scene investigator. I’ve even labelled dust before, but don’t tell your spouse thinking it’s a funny story, because you’ll be chasing dust bunnies for the rest of the day. If you can’t identify something in the room, in your target language, you write down that item in your language, on the non-sticky side, and collect your misses into a pile. Once you leave the room, you fill in the target language on the back of the note (the sticky side). You re-enter the room and stick the note to the object, native language up. You can remove the note once you state the target word, lift the paper and check to see if it is right. If not, you collect that paper into a pile of misses, and try again the next day. This exercise again puts all of the brain areas into a collective language workout.

4) This next one is a slight variation of number 3, but it has to do with the positions of objects. Once you have all of the objects figured out, the idea is to describe them in spatial orientation to one another. The pillow is on the bed, the book is on the desk, the bureau is on the floor next to the bed, the picture is over the bed, a storage bin is under the bed, other items are next to, near, alongside, far away from, in the corner of, hanging on…etc. This is a prepositional workout that will benefit you greatly.

5) Process your day. At the end of the day, tell someone who will put up with you (i.e. dog/cat) the order of your day in your target language. You can do this with a script early on, but after a few times, you will be able to do it without a script, and just rattle off your awesome day. You woke up, had a cup of coffee, drank some juice, ate an omelette, packed your lunch, drove to work, had a meeting with some co-workers, worked on a few projects, had lunch at your desk…you get the idea. This is a reflexive verb workout, with some past tenses thrown in. This learned skill will come in very handy when you are arrested overseas, and are interrogated by local law enforcement. They will be impressed with what you have had for lunch, and your ability to rattle off a timeline in their language.

6) Got an old Scrabble table game lying around? It's still got the bag of letters? Are there words whose spelling you consistently miss on Duolingo? If you're not being timed, gather the letters and slowly lay the word out, and say the number of a's, e's, etc. after you've done the spelling. This helps me a lot in Italian because I have a proclivity to use "ct", i.e. perfecto vice perfetto, and all of the other "ct" is actually "tt" in Italian, words. I had to use this to break the habit. You are also introducing a tactile element to your memorization.

7) By now, you need a shoe box to put your bag of letter tiles, your phrase or picture book (love those, especially the ones with a picture and tags of something like a room, car, boat, etc.), sticky note pads, your SD or USB memory device, loaded with downloaded podcasts, and all your other tools. When you sit down to process your language, you are prepared for structured work. When I began thinking about language as something I am verbally, audibly, visibly and physically processing, I got better at it. If you say, "I am processing German" vice "I am learning German", you shift from passive to active. You go from looking for something, to hunting for something. I noticed this with Benny Lewis, when I first saw him talking about being able to finally obtain language skills. He's literally on the hunt for words and phrases, and processing a language like software. You know your native language and you are hardwired. When you begin learning languages, you become a software program running a language.

8) My mother has a neighbor with two kids, aged 2 and 4, and they have action figures that they play with all day. The older one has a running dialogue of action, 'Superman jumps off the building, goes into the fire, blows out the fire, etc. etc.' while the smaller one watches and occasionally mimics. As my mother is telling me this, I'm now thinking, that kid's processing verbs like I should be processing verbs. I need to add action figures to my language processing box.

9) I use mnemonic devices...a lot. When I miss a word, I create a mnemonic for it within seconds, i.e. spesso (often) becames the thought that I drink expresso often (spesso). I'll never miss it again. I blogged a lot about memory tricks here:


When I restart German, I know that I'll be dowloading the images here:

https://deutschvocabulary.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/germanflashcards_feminine.pdf https://deutschvocabulary.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/german-flashcards_masculine.pdf

Since they are PDFs, I will not need to use the "Downloadthemall!" browser add on for Firefox.


But if this was a website with images that I individually wanted to collect, this program allows you to right-click at a website and start a download of all of the media (jpegs, MP3’s, etc) found on a website. Once I have all the pictures in one folder, I can use the Explorer preview window like a flashcard reader.

10) Often when I get a noun that's difficult to form a mnemonic for, I simply copy the word into a search engine, selected for image, and see what pops up. One of the images may stick. If I like the image, I may right click and "save as" to a folder of language images.

11) If I want to have a more effective study session, I use a technique that I've used professionally, known as Optimum Learning State. I've blogged about it before:


12) Depending on the language I am learning, I do an image search using words that are the equivalent of "visual dictionary". Dozens of images will appear that I can use as "image flashcards" in my explorer preview window. This actually led to my purchase of the Firefly Five Language Visual Dictionary.

13) I try to see the word I am having trouble with in many types of sentences. To do this, I can perform a search of my own spreadsheet of 50K French sentences... (I discuss how to create such a spreadsheet in this post):


or, I can use an on-line database of sentences found on this website:


14) Since I have now attained a large vocabulary and knowledge of grammar in another language, I need to practice conversation. I use: http://www.gospeaky.com/

The site allows me to have text discussions, not just audio and video, so that early on, native speakers can correct my postings, and I can discover my grammar and spelling weaknesses. As I feel more comfortable, I can begin to use the audio/video features of the site. Something to keep in mind is that the other person would like to improve their non-native language, so having knowledge of your own language's grammar rules is important. Although many language teachers may tell you that it's okay to make mistakes, many of the language learners I work with have eight years of school taught English, and feel very embarassed about making fundamental language errors. If you are prepared to discuss common English errors and have a way to avoid the error, your efforts as an English instructor will be appreciated.

Please share your techniques and ideas.

April 25, 2015



> A word like “sovraffollata” is not intuitive

Sovra = supra -> super -> above/over. Sovrapprezzo [sovra-p-prezzo] = "over price", the cost added to the normal price). Sovrappensiero [sovra-p-pensiero] = "above the thought", to be thinking like when you hide from an ongoing discussion and get lost in your thoughts.

Affollata = folla means crowd, affollato means crowded.


Thanks for the information, I will put it to good use.


I usually just use this for Turkish (to get a basic knowledge of the language). I also am using a Turkish beginner/intermediate vocab course on memrise.

For German I go on bild.de for news and read there. For music I have a spotify playlist with 707 German songs (mostly just rap). I am using an advanced memrise vocabulary course. What I like to do is translate phrases I use often with dict.cc (great German translator btw).


I really like number 1 - I think I'll start doing this with French.


Brilliant ideas. After two weeks I am not skilled enough in German for some of them yet. I have been using Babbel and some Pilsner lessons (as audio books - cheaper that way). I have also started to listen to disney songs in German on spotify. Okay the Disney is abit embarrassing but they sing very clearly so I can understand some of the words.


I did something like this. I know a song or two in French, Italian and Spanish. It really helped in my french exam. I was muttering the song in french and in english.

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About "glielo", it's not him, it's a little bit more than that.

ex. (io) glielo dico = I tell him that thing

It specifies the object of your action (you are telling something) and the destination of the action itself (the person/object who is affected by your action).

"glielo", "gliela", "glieli", "gliele": they all work the same, but they are each used for a different gender/number combination of the answer to "to whom?"

I tell him/her/them that thing

glielo dico (that thing is masculine singular)

gliela dico (that thing is feminine singular)

glieli dico (that thing is masculine plural)

gliele dico (that thing is feminine plural)

Note on the gender/number problem: it doesn't matter if who is receiving the information is a woman, a man or a group of people, it only matters WHAT you are telling.

They can be used with every verb for which you could ask "what?" and "to whom?", not just dire (to tell). It can be a little tricky, I suppose, I hope I've been clear.

Keep up and good luck!


Thanks. I copied that into my notebook.


I love the part about playing with the action figures in your target language. For me if it's not fun, it won't get done. I listen to music in French and play games with a lot of French dialog. I do not know near enough to actually understand most of what's goin' on, but it is a little victory every time I recognize a word.


Great ideas, thanks for sharing them.

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