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Studying a language other than English in Year 12 can provide you with life-long skills and a deep sense of achievement. This said, it’s the kind of study where a series of late-night cram sessions won’t get you over the line. We spoke to Dr Michiko Weinmann, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and Education, about how to be properly prepared for what is expected of you.
Dr Weinmann says that in addition to expanding your vocabulary, grammar, sentence structures, idioms, knowledge and understanding of writing in different genres, you also need to be thinking about assessment. ‘You need to become quite savvy with exam strategies and understand what is expected in formal assessment tasks,’ she says.
While the exam strategies you’d use in any other subjects apply, when you’re learning to communicate in a new language there is increased importance around practicing your skills.
Dr Weinmann points out that there can be a discrepancy between how people sound in their head versus how they actually sound when they speak. ‘Getting some real speaking practice, rather than just going over your oral exam notes in your head, is really important,’ she says.
Some students are in the lucky position of having someone to practice with such as a friend, family member or the school may have a conversation tutor. ‘Even if you don’t have these opportunities, at least practice speaking aloud to yourself,’ Dr Weinmann says.
By the time you reach Year 12 you’ve been studying a language for quite a while and it’s likely that you’ve built up some strong language learning strategies. ‘Trust your own language learning experience from previous years,’ Dr Weinmann says. ‘You know what works for you and what doesn’t.
If you feel unsure, Dr Weinmann suggests asking your teacher for advice. With so many useful learning tools available it can be hard to know what is best for your situation. ‘There are lots of useful apps for example but they might only help you develop in one skill,’ she says.
‘They may help you develop knowledge of certain vocabulary items but not help you with putting them into a sentence or using them in different creative ways. It’s about understanding how resources work and how they can support your learning.’
You’ve probably heard the suggestion you should expose yourself to as much of the target language as possible to help your learning. While there is truth in this, there are also limitations. Listening to podcasts, reading, and watching movies can be very helpful, but Dr Weinmann explains, ‘Spending two hours watching a complex movie in the target language will probably result in having picked up very few new words and phrases.
'Trust your own language learning experience from previous years. You know what works for you and what doesn’t.'
Dr Michiko Weinmann,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University
‘After 15 minutes your brain is going to be a little bit exhausted and you’re probably just going to start reading the English subtitles anyway. By all means, do it for enjoyment but in terms of learning, there may be other more effective strategies.’
Dr Weinmann suggests that it may be more effective to just watch a small part of the movie or a particular section. ‘Initially watch it with the English subtitles on and once you know the story then watch it with the subtitles in your target language,’ she says. ‘It’s about being really clever with how you use language to get results.’
New applications like Language Learning with Netflix, a Chrome extension that allows you to watch your favourite shows with two subtitles at the same time, might come in handy.
Dr Weinmann says one of the most important reasons you should consider continuing the study of Languages into university is for enjoyment. In an age where we are taught that everything must serve an economic or career purpose this is a refreshing idea.
‘I really like the concept of focusing on things that give us joy or a life-skill even if they might not necessarily result in a particular career – we don’t know where the journey is going to take us,’ Dr Weinmann says. ‘Anything like sports, music, being in the school play, learning a language – they are skills that can stay with you for a lifetime and that in itself is valuable.
‘It might be something that you get great enjoyment out of, it might stimulate or motivate or destress you. And if you decide to put it aside for a while, you can always come back to it later in life.’
If studying a language in Year 12 feels like a lot of hard work it’s worth reminding yourself that you’ve already come a long way. ‘It’s important to focus on the journey you’ve already taken,’ Dr Weinmann says. ‘There aren’t that many students who actually study a language at this level in the senior years because it is seen as a big commitment – it can be challenging and time consuming.
‘If you have made the decision to take a language at this senior level there must be something in the language that is giving you joy or satisfaction or something you find deeply interesting. I think it’s important to not lose sight of that.’
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