Students take control

29th October 2004 at 01:00
Mind Your Language! A Practical Guide to Learning a Foreign Language

By Remo Nannetti

pound;9 from iUniverse

Mind Your Language! describes itself as "a self-help guide for anyone studying any foreign modern language at any level". It starts by inviting the reader to assess his or her performance in 15 areas of language learning, ranging from attitudes and motivation to using a dictionary and travel abroad. Each area is then considered in detail in a separate chapter, which typically outlines common problems and suggests strategies for improvement. The stress throughout is on students taking control of their own learning.

The book is clearly structured and each chapter aims to guide the reader through a series of logical steps. "Improve your learning experience", for example, is subdivided into "Before the class", "During the class", "After the class" and "The final word", a brief summary of the advice. In this case, it is PAPER: Prepare, Anticipate, Participate, Enquire, Review. Mnemonics are a regular feature of the book: the key to successful reading is RODEO and accurate writing depends on VEGAS.

The style of Mind Your Language! is informal and reassuring. One can hear the voice of a kindly, traditional teacher offering straightforward advice, with the occasional anecdote or quotation to lighten the tone. I liked the warning tale of the software package which translated the English "Out of sight, out of mind" into the Russian equivalent of "invisible maniac"! Mind Your Language! offers sound advice on many aspects of language learning, but its claim to "help you maximise your true potential" is over-optimistic.

The general approach is most appropriate for sixth-formers, but they may be put off by the childish cover illustration and the basic level of some of the advice, which is not even specifically related to language learning. Do they need to be told that a dictionary lists words in alphabetical order, that it is important to cover your textbook or that neat handwriting is a way of getting a higher mark? On a more serious note, should they really be advised to practise their language in internet chatrooms? Mind Your Language! is probably most useful as an addition to a school or college library, where older students can dip into selected chapters and take from them advice which they find helpful.

Gill Maynard is Languages Development Officer at the Anglo-European School, Ingatestone and teacher at Chelmsford County High School

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