Dan from Hack Chinese here.
I imagine many others will have great ideas, but I thought I’d share my thoughts here too, as I’ve talked to many students who have gone through this stage.
My thoughts will cover:
- Study time (Knowledge vs. Practice)
I am a firm believer that if your language-learning habits aren’t generating motivation, you will eventually run out of willpower and give up. The fact that you took the time to ask this question on this forum is a good indication that you should probably shake up your study habits a bit, so it’s awesome to see you take the initiative to ask for help. In my eyes, this trait makes you very likely to succeed in the long term.
Language apps are a double-edged sword, as I think you’ve noticed. They make certain aspects of studying “easy” or “motivating” (which can be great).
But they can also give you a false sense of progress. If you collect a thousand experience points on DuoLingo (or learn 1,000 words on HC or ANKI), yet aren’t able to follow teachers in class, it can be extremely de-motivating. Was all that work for nothing?
So how should you look at learning on apps? I like the metaphor of language learning like race-car driving. Learning on apps is like adding fuel to the car (something you need to do!) But to get better at race-car driving, you need to practice driving around the track (listening, reading, speaking, etc.).
(I tell Hack Chinese students that learning words with our app is not ‘mastering’ those words. Rather, it’s simply preparing them to engage in other forms of learning with less frustration.)
So, what to do with apps? Use them when they’re filling you up with knowledge, but make sure you leave time to practice with that knowledge!
Study Time (Knowledge vs. Practice)
Virtually every time I audit a student’s study habits, they are lacking sufficient practice with their knowledge (especially listening).
Most learning resources (let’s take textbooks as an example) go something like this: In each chapter, you have a page or two of ‘dialogue’ (written text you can read and/or listen to), 30-120 new words, and a bunch of grammar exercises.
Then, when you finish that chapter, you move on to the next chapter, which again introduces a ton of words and grammar alongside a single additional page or so of text.
I understand why textbooks do this – students want a feeling of progression, and adding more ‘knowledge’ is a great way to provide that feeling.
But what the student really needs after learning so many new concepts is an additional 10-20 pages (several hours at minimum) of reading/listening practice, without learning anything new.
So, regardless of what your main ‘learning’ activities are, try to add in more ‘practice’ activities.
There are many ways to do this:
- Graded readers
- Discussions with LTL teachers in class (where you aren’t explicitly trying to learn “new” things)
- Listening to textbook dialogues
If you are a textbook user, one thing I often recommend is to get the textbooks of several series (NPCR, Integrated, Boya) around the same level.
Especially at earlier levels, there will be a lot of overlap of content, so you’ll be able to practice with words and grammar patterns you are already familiar with.
Don’t bother with the grammar exercises, just let comprehensible input do its thing by listening to the dialogues. You can get a lot of mileage out of this. Listen before you “study” the text. Listen again after you learn the words. Listen while reading along. Listen without leading along. Listen again tomorrow, and the next day. Listen until you have memorized the text, and your brain can basically finish sentences before they are spoken. Your brain is doing a ton of work behind the scenes, putting patterns together and making you more likely to recognize them in natural speech later on.
Finally, one surgical approach to understanding your teachers in class could be to record the audio of the class, then transcribe it later, looking up words you don’t know. You then have a nice bit of text to listen/learn from that you know is applicable to you!
These are my 2 cents. I can’t wait to read some other suggestions from other folks!