By Dr. Karolina Kopczynski
Faculty Member, School of Arts and Humanities, American Public University
So is there really a formula or a secret technique to learn a foreign language? Personally, I know there is!
Often, I hear my students say, “This online format does not really work for me.” But I question that statement — what is the ideal format to learn a foreign language? Online classes? In-person instruction?
Start a degree program at American Public University.
Motivation Is Key to Success When You’re Learning Another Language
In my opinion, as a learner of eight foreign languages and a speaker of five, I know that the format does not really matter. What does matter when you’re learning a foreign language is motivation. That is the only key to success.
We all know that when we enjoy doing something, we tend to be good at it. The same rule applies to learning a foreign language.
A few years back, I wanted to learn Greek. I went to a bookstore, bought a book and CDs, and away I went. I dedicated two hours a day, every day, for a year as I set a personal goal for myself.
It was hard! I was learning how to read, write, speak and listen in another language.
After a year, I went to Thessaloniki, Greece, during the summer for two months to practice my Greek. It was incredible and rewarding to hear locals tell me that my Greek was excellent.
There Are Various Resources Available for Learning Foreign Languages
As we know, learning a foreign language through immersion is the best method, but not everybody can just leave and live in a foreign country for six months to master another language. However, everyone can study using the variety of resources that are available.
Some individuals can learn a foreign language on their own through self-study. There are also those who will take a class, like our students, and use a curriculum designed to help them develop and master linguistic skills and to learn about another country’s culture, values, and beliefs.
In my classes, students work with Rosetta Stone and have other opportunities for practicing their foreign language skills. They can practice and learn new vocabulary, have additional practice with grammatical structure via music, play games, engage in cultural readings, and do listening comprehension practices.
In addition, students have many opportunities to learn and become more proficient via music, cooking, history, literature, and geographic videos. I also offer many activities that are content-related and some that are not to allow students to test their abilities via auto-correct activities, which display to students their comprehension. In Spanish classes, for instance, students have the opportunity for developing listening and reading comprehension, writing and speaking proficiency through lexicon, syntax and cultural concepts.
A Formula for Motivation
My formula for motivation, based on my experience and my students’ feedback in over 20 years of teaching Spanish, is a positive attitude plus the “3 Ds” taught to me by my Polish grandfather, a WWII soldier:
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, motivation is defined as “enthusiasm for doing something.” Therefore, if you are passionate about learning a foreign language, you are the only one standing in your own way.
Be Realistic in Your Goals for Learning a Foreign Language
Having a goal and making a plan at the beginning level is recommended. Be realistic! Define your purpose for learning…are you learning to be able to communicate with other people? Do you want to be a medical interpreter? Do you want to teach that language? Do you want to challenge yourself or do you plan to travel? Your goal could be a combination of different smaller goals.
It’s important to know what your goal is. Dedicate your time to memorizing foreign vocabulary in context, listening to music and podcasts, reading stories in that language, practicing your writing, and most importantly, finding someone with whom to communicate.
Speak! Laugh! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! And most of all, enjoy learning a foreign language!
Also, remember the principle: Be consistent. Practice does make your performance better. Some people say that learning a foreign language is difficult and it could be, depending on how you approach it. But with a positive attitude, motivation, and available resources, learning a foreign language is no longer just “I wish” but rather “I can do it!”
About the Author
Dr. Karolina Kopczynski is a native of Poland and moved to the USA as a high school student. Her passion is learning foreign languages and being able to travel and communicate with others to broaden and deepen her perspectives as a global learner.
She earned her B.A in Spanish from UMASS, Amherst, where she also studied, French, German, Italian and Russian. She completed her study abroad program in Oviedo, Spain. Dr. Kopczynski obtained her M.A.T. in Spanish and ESOL from the School for International Training, VT in 2000. She also taught herself Greek and lived in Greece.
In 2010, Dr. Kopczynski completed her Ed.D. from the University of Phoenix in Curriculum and Instruction. Her dissertation topic was: Student Proficiency in Spanish Taught by Native and Non-native Spanish instructors. In 2015, she completed two additional master’s degrees from the University of Jaén in Spain and the University Iberoamericana in Puerto Rico in Applied Linguistics in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language and Formation of Professors of Spanish as a Foreign Language. She has experience instructing Spanish at all levels and designing online Spanish courses.
Recently, Dr. Kopczynski has presented at the Mass Foreign Language (MaFla) regarding “Reading & Listening Comprehension and Writing & Speaking Proficiency = Online Applications”; at a Canvas Network international webinar on the “Use of Technology in a Foreign Language Classroom” and at the Wyoming Innovations in Learning Conference on “Boost Engagement and Empower Struggling Learners via Digital Tools.”
Ready When You Are
At American Public University, students are priority one. We are committed to providing quality education, superior student resources, and affordable tuition. In fact, while post-secondary tuition has risen sharply nationwide, the university continues to offer affordable tuition without sacrificing academic quality.