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Learning Organization
 

Learning is easier if you know how to organize your time and your space. Ideally, you should have plenty of time to learn and a comfortable place where to study and practice. Even if it is not so, try to manage your time effectively and prepare your 'study place' so to have a pleasant environment and a well-structured schedule to follow. It is so much simpler to do anything if you know where and when to do it!


Space

You may not have a choice as far as your 'study space' is concerned: some of us end up in crammed, noisy cyber-cafés in order to take an online course. If you can help it, however, have a space in which you feel comfortable. It may be perfectly tidy or rather jumbled up: just have it the way that helps you study best. Try to study in a quiet environment that helps your concentration. You may have music in the background, but remember that you may need to repeat things aloud. Music in such a context does not help you focus. Most of all, have what you need at hand, and have it there before you need it! Be methodical, or just sensible. There is no much point in having an 'artistically messed up' desk if this delays your studies. Young students find it 'boring' to be organized, but it helps. Think of what you need, and get it in advance so you can then focus for a good length of time on the subject.

If you prefer to study alone, take the time to revise on your own. However, think if others can help you understand the material better. It may be a good idea to spend time learning with fellow students. Study groups can be very effective either to get familiar with the subject at the beginning or to wrap it all up at the time of revision. It can be stimulating to have others to exchange ideas or discuss the finer points. Find a place where several people can interact without being distracted, and try to make sure everybody brings the material they need.


Time

Take some time to organize your schedule before you start. First of all, think of when you study best: some people can concentrate better in the morning; some feel more focused in the evening; others are 'nighthawks.' Try to study when the time is right for you.

Consider not only when, but also how long and how often you can study. Even if you have plenty of time on your hands, remember that frequency rather than duration can be of importance. Although each individual varies, studies seem to show that a high degree of concentration lasts for about 20 minutes for most of us. Working things over for a short time everyday may be more effective than racking your brains out for hours twice a month. Brief but regular and intensive sessions can yield excellent results. Try to prepare your schedule taking this into account, and maybe plan breaks if you have a longer period of time available.

Sometimes what you learn needs time to 'sink in.' Some people feel anxious about taking a break for fear of forgetting. While lack of practice will have negative consequences over time, a short pause can be beneficial, especially if you are stalling. You may be failing to grasp a math concept or fighting a verb conjugation that just does not want to be memorized. 'Give it up' for a while, even a day or two. Relax, and go back to it without worrying. You may find that the concept makes perfect sense now or that with a lighter approach the conjugation is easily conquered! That said, try not to leave long gaps between sessions and keep reviewing to refresh and reinforce your knowledge. You need to have a good, regular rhythm: a pace that helps you feel fresh and motivated. [more ...]

Remember that a good schedule must be realistic. Don't set your goals too high. Frustration often comes from bad planning. When learning a foreign language, for instance, the initial enthusiasm makes you believe you will achieve great results in a short time. There you are expecting to talk like a native speaker a week after your first lesson. Unfortunately, you are being unreasonable. If you are learning the language for the first time, you will not be having an articulate discussion in it after a week nor probably after a few months. You may feel frustrated by the length of your studies and put the blame on the method or the teacher, when in fact your expectations were unrealistic from a start. You may even give up studying the language altogether because you think the class is not well taught or you feel you do not have what it takes to succeed. Setting a good schedule from the beginning may prevent this kind of failure. A realistic plan has also the advantage of keeping you motivated. An attainable goal is a reward in itself because when you reach it, you fill satisfied and eager for more. Design a well-paced schedule that makes it easier to stick to your studies and do so with a positive attitude. Organize your time to follow a schedule that takes in breaks and revisions and possible setbacks. Be patient as well as persistent: we need time to learn and even more time to learn well.

 

Music Practice, Sport Training, and Language Learning

If you want to become fluent in a foreign language, you should think of it as being a practical skill rather than a purely abstract knowledge. You can compare a foreign language to a musical instrument or a sport as far as learning is concerned. Music practice, sport training, and language learning have more in common than it may seem at first.

You do your scales in music, you do your exercises in sport, you do your drills in language. You repeat the notes in music, you repeat the work-outs in sport, you repeat the practice in language. You rehearse a piece until you know it by heart in music, you go over the same moves until they are automatic in sport, you work over grammar and vocabulary until they become second nature in language. You don't become an accomplished musician, a skilled sportsperson, or a fluent speaker of a foreign language overnight. In all three activities you reach a high level of proficiency with dedication, regular practice, and gradual improvement.

Whether you are learning to play an instrument/sport or to speak a new language, you need to learn and practice the basics first. As a beginner, you cannot expect to perform at a too high level. You need a fair amount of time to get to grips with the foundations. Then you need to test your skills to make sure you are ready to step up. You constantly review what you have learned and you refine your knowledge step by step until you reach full proficiency.

A few weeks after your first piano lesson, you would not play a Rachmaninov concert in a public performance. You would not 'go for it' after months and probably even after a certain number of years of training, even if you are particularly gifted. Similarly, in a proper frame of mind, you would not try to run a marathon without preparing thoroughly for it. Try to have the same considerations when you approach your language studies. If you want to perform well, take your time to prepare well.

Of course, you can have a go at anything. It all depends on what you want to achieve and how serious you are about reaching your goals. As pointed out elsewhere in this Guide, you should not take this as a negative remark, quite the contrary. Take pride in the time you spend studying and in the effort you put into it. The results will be rewarding. This is also a positive perspective on things. Your progress will be more steady if you start on the right foot. With a confident attitude and a realistic schedule, your skills and your performance will improve more over time.

 

Conclusions

A good plan should set a regular pace that includes breaks as well as sessions to revise and test yourself. Allow as much time as possible to practice, and set realistic goals. A well-designed schedule makes learning easier, more effective, and fun.

Think of the time and place that are more suitable both to your personality and the practical aspects of your studies. Be methodical: prepare in advance, learn to plan.

Think if studying with others may be useful, and eventually organize study groups. Remember that this means even more preparation beforehand.

 


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