05 / 02 / 2004


Good morning,

One of the most frustrating things about learning a language is feeling like you take two steps forward and one step backwards or, even worse, one step forward and two steps backwards. I have always said that the most difficult part about learning a language is maintaining what you have already learned.

Whatever method you are using to learn or improve your English (a traditional academy, a private teacher, a distance course, the Ziggurat programme ...) a part of your learning plan should include recycling (reviewing and revising) what you already know.

In most learning situations we see progress as linear: first we do unit 1, then unit 2, then unit 3, etc. We get the false idea that "learning" unit 1 is necessary before moving on to unit 2 and that "learning" the material in unit 2 is necessary before moving on to unit 3, etc. But in real life, you may need things from unit 10 to be able to communicate, and when you're in unit 10 you may have forgot many things from unit 2. To guarantee assimilation, you can't just move linearly through a text or a programme; you need to recycle and review.

Luckily, recycling is often incorporated into textbooks; however, it's usually not enough, so you should be organising your own three to ten-minute recycling sessions. Following are some ideas, although many of you are probably much more creative than I am. ;-)

Vocabulary Review
Spend a few minutes every day reviewing words from past units (or past Daily Vitamins). Do something with them: write sentences, invent mnemonic tricks to remember them, write a paragraph with 3-5 words, review your flashcards, etc. Recycling is especially important to do with words that you think are important to know but that you are having trouble remembering. The important thing is to review often, not necessarily for lots of time.

Grammar Review
This doesn't need much explanation. You can go back to past units and re-do exercises, especially those that you had trouble with. If you have the Cambridge University Press grammar books (Essential Grammar in Use, English Grammar in Use, Advanced Grammar in Use, etc.) you can easily review a unit about a key grammar point in 5 to 10 minutes. Or maybe you just want to do 1 section of a unit in 3 to 5 minutes. Or you might have the Good Grammar Book or Intermediate Grammar, by Oxford University Press. It doesn't matter, but you should try to work grammar recycling and review into your learning plan.

Other Materials
If you have any complementary self-study materials (videos, CD-ROMs, Audio CDs, etc.) ideally you should use and re-use them often. It's not enough to watch a video episode once or twice; you should watch it again a few weeks later. It's very motivating to watch a video episode after a couple of weeks and see how much more you can understand the second time around. It builds confidence and motivates you when you see how much you have improved.

Of course, we could go on and on with ideas, but I think you get the general idea.

Have a great day!