APU Online Learning Original

How to Be Successful Learning a Foreign Language Online

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By Dr. Karolina Kopczynski
Faculty Member, School of Arts, Education and Humanities

Are you learning a foreign language to have an A in class? Or are you learning another language to be able to communicate with native speakers and be a part of another culture?

Start a degree program in the School of Arts, Education and Humanities at American Public University.

At times, getting an A when you’re studying a foreign language is not an indicator of actual competency. So how do you successfully learn a foreign language online? Is it possible?

“Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savor their songs.” — Nelson Mandela, “Long Walk to Freedom”

Strategies for Learning a Foreign Language

Many individuals are nervous about taking an online foreign language class. They feel that being in a traditional classroom will provide them with better instruction and a better opportunity to learn a language.

For some students, in-person learning might work better. However, online classes offer the same way to learn and, at times, an even better way to learn a foreign language.

In an online classroom, students have an opportunity to practice all of their linguistic skills, such as reading, listening comprehension, writing and speaking proficiency. Programs such as Rosetta Stone, which the university uses, offer learners an ability to master all of these skills.

With Rosetta Stone, for instance, students read passages in Spanish and answer a variety of questions by providing written responses. In addition, students listen to passages with a focus on lexicon, syntax and culture.

Rosetta Stone also provides students with a plethora of pronunciation and speaking activities, so learners have an opportunity to repeat words until he or she can pronounce foreign words accurately. Furthermore, students have numerous opportunities to practice all of their linguistic skills through discussions, assignments and other shared resources.

What Is the Secret to Being Able to Speak a Foreign Language?

Now you feel, “Okay, I can handle an online foreign language class. But what is the true secret of being able to speak any language?”

Let’s look at human development. Children commonly learn language by imitation. They listen, repeat the vocabulary, repeat fragments of sentences and later speak in complete sentences.

Learning a foreign language takes precisely the same effort. In other words, to speak a language fluently, you have to widen your vocabulary.

Even if a sentence you speak is grammatically incorrect, it will still be understood by native speakers because vocabulary will serve as the bridge. It is impossible to read, listen, write or speak without a good knowledge of foreign words.

While it may seem tedious to memorize long lists of words, a knowledge of foreign vocabulary enables communication and assertiveness in any language. The ability to share a preference in music, compare two dishes, describe a favorite celebration, and justify the advantage and disadvantages of technology with a native speaker of a foreign language can only be accomplished when you have the right words.

Of course, a knowledge of correct grammar is also essential. Be sure to memorize the conjugations and use them.

When you’re in a foreign country, talk to people and become part of the culture. Being part of the culture makes you understand and laugh at the jokes and helps you understand the meaning of every culture’s idiomatic expressions.

Imagine someone who is learning English as a foreign language hearing the expression, “You are pulling my leg!” and wondering what it means. Can you imagine the confusion that idiomatic expressions cause when they’re translated word for word?

Vocabulary words can be translated, but the translation of idiomatic expressions is often illogical. However, it is significant in daily communication.

Where Do You Learn All This Vocabulary?

There are online programs that allow you to learn vocabulary in any language. One of them is Quizlet; others are Duolingo and Rosetta Stone. There are also podcasts, music, news sites, online meetup groups to practice speaking and many other online resources that provide opportunities to learn your vocabulary in context.

While you’re learning vocabulary words, begin mastering grammatical structures and simple sentences. Take some time to listen, read, write and speak that language regularly.

Do not be afraid to make any mistakes. After you master a second language, start learning a third one, and continue on as the process of learning a foreign language gets easier.

Remember that the secret to communication in a foreign language is vocabulary and learning the meaning of words in context. As you become more fluent, you’ll enjoy learning, communicating and being part of another culture.

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.”

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