I will let others lecture you about perfect study techniques, chants, and mnemonics. I want to talk about what many language learners ignore when they are learning, especially early on. PLAY. So many people focus on language as a subject, or a skill, or a communication tool, and take it very seriously. They forget that one great way to augment their learning is to play.
As native speakers growing up, we often will ‘play’ with our language by making up nonsense words and phrases (and laughing about them), or creating our own ‘secret code’ to share with a friend so only we understand each other. Things like ‘Madlibs’ are a great example of this as well. There are all kinds of ways to play with the language itself, and being able to hear something and say that it sounds wrong and/or funny is a great sign that you are progressing in said language.
It does not stop there, though. Playing simple games, but setting a timer or making it a competitive game with friends or other students (or siblings) is a great way to force learners to bypass the long ‘it has to be perfect’ thinking phase and get them to just express themselves even if it isn’t perfect. If you need to communicate with your teammates in a time crunch, you often will get it out as quickly and efficiently as you can. Of course, this only works if the prize, or punishment, provides the motivation. Not many people above the age of 7 want to stand on one leg, rub their tummy and poke their nose at the same time while saying a funny sentence the other team makes, all in front of their peers (but some do want to see their peers have to).
Even beyond that, though, it is one many adults dismiss as a waste. Video games like RPG’s, or some action or puzzle games, in moderation, provide more than you may give them credit for.
These days, most of these types of games come with full voice-acting, and subtitles in almost any language you can imagine. Of course if that was all it offered, then a movie or TV show would be just the same, but that is not the end of it. For games it is not only the opportunity to practice reading and listening, but you have to actively listen, understand and act. Often you are given instructions to follow, or hints to a puzzle, or a choice to make that determines the story, and often you have to act within a time limit. It’s kind of like interactive listening. If you are passively watching like you do with a movie, you do not process the information actively, because it is not immediately useful in the moment. This activity can also double as a supplementary vocabulary lesson, as there are bound to be new words or phrases you encounter which you can write down to look up and practice afterward.
One serious hidden benefit to playing with language, for those serious types who still are not convinced, is to remember how memory works. While repetition and rote memorization are one way to brute force it, they are not actually as efficient as you might think. People form stronger memories around events or ideas that are associated with stronger emotion. Winning or losing a competition, laughing at something funny and other strong emotions require no repetition to remember them very vividly, and those memories last nearly forever. Students remember things associated with fun or being interesting, better than those associated with being boring.
Learning can’t be ALL fun and games, but you would be surprised how far a little play can go. Just food for thought…