Finn’s Study Tips – How to Improve Languages

This week we’re hearing from Finn, one of our school presenters, about how to improve your languages. Check out Finn’s study tips below!

How to Improve Languages

Languages are a huge part of the IB, with both Studies in Language and Literature and Language Acquisition being compulsory areas of study. For some students, this is fine. However, for others these subjects are frustratingly difficult to revise and they don’t come naturally.

To that end, here are some of our top tips for improving your Group 1 and Group 2 language studies!

Finn’s Study Tip 1 – Learn Buzzwords (Group 1)

Literature isn’t often seen as a subject that you can revise for. It seems creative, and therefore very skills-based. However, there are some practical ways to boost your literature grades.

Aside from learning specific literary terms and techniques, you can use a kind of formula to help your analysis in essays. Once you quote your evidence, you should say how it relates to your interpretation of the text. You are going to use many quotes, so you have to switch up how you analyse them.

For example: 

The quote ‘blah blah blah blah blah’ conveys a sense of grief in the poem, reinforcing the central theme of loss in the poem.

Now, if we are arguing that the central theme is loss, then we have to back this up several times. But in order to keep it fresh, switch up the words in bold, underline, or italics by using synonyms.

Synonyms for conveys include: communicates, iterates, displays, illustrates, etc.

Synonyms for a sense of include: an atmosphere of, the idea that, the notion of, an ambience of

Synonyms for reinforcing include: adding to, reiterating, strengthening, furthering, etc.

So we could have the quote ‘blah blah blah blah blah’ illustrates an atmosphere of grief in the poem, strengthening the central theme of loss in the poem.

Changing these words in and out is like having a set formula for analysing any quote. All you have to do is think about the overall effect (in this case, grief) that it has!

Finn’s Study Tip 2 – Play the Game (Group 1)

Everyone has been in the same confusing situation in a literature class. Your teacher delves deeply into the text, analysing seemingly meaningless words, metaphors and punctuation while you struggle to understand their importance. Or you may have studied a poem that you can’t make heads or tails of. Either way, you’re struggling to secure the grades you want. 

But don’t worry! The key to nailing your literature studies in Group 1 is to play the game. Don’t think about every single little thing the author has done, and then try to use all of these to build up your argument about what the text ‘means’. This is as confusing as it is difficult to do. Go in the opposite direction – once you read a text or a poem, pin down the meaning that you think it has.

Then you can look at why the text makes you feel that way. Gather different pieces of evidence – metaphors, punctuation marks, the structure of the piece – and use them to back up your interpretation. You should always credit the author with having deployed these techniques or devices deliberately (even though we all know that isn’t necessarily true). This is why you have to play the game. Select evidence that backs up your argument, pretend that all of this was deliberately done by the author to create the meaning that you see in the text, and there you go!

Remember that literature is subjective. As long as you have evidence, you can secure a 7.

Finn’s Study Tip 3 – Exposure Exposure Exposure (Group 2)

The name of the game when really trying to improve your language B is exposure. This is for several reasons. You will increase your vocabulary as well as learning the context for words and phrases, and drastically improve your confidence. But how can you do this?

By starting now! No matter what your target language is, you will be able to easily access media in that language. It might be TV, music or film, but you need look no further than Netflix or Spotify to access it. So, if you’re learning Spanish, start listening to reggaeton! If French is your target, then maybe give Lupin a go on Netflix. Even simple game-style apps like Duolingo can be great for improving your vocabulary. Whatever you do, just make sure it’s fun. With so many ways to expose yourself to a language, you’re sure to find something you enjoy. 

Especially for Netflix and YouTube, the Chrome extension Language Learning with Netflix and YouTube is invaluable. It places the subtitles of your native language and your target language next to each other. It also has an interactive dictionary, so you never need to stop your programme to translate. Another trick is to try switching your phone’s language. This technique has worked wonders for my Spanish, and can change your grades and interest for your Group 2 language too!

Tip 4 – Target your Studies (Group 2)

Especially in your writing paper for language B, there are simple steps to take to improve your grades. The first thing is to delve deep into the topics that are usually asked about. These include: health, technology, customs and traditions, and current topics in politics. So learn key bits of vocab for these topics! Try to start with 10 words for a topic, and gradually expand this list. This way you’ll be better prepared to deploy vocabulary that’s relevant when it comes time to write your essay.

On top of this, ensure that you have a good command of the different tenses of your target language. If learning many verbs is too difficult, then just stick to several tried and tested verbs in different tenses. Part of the marking criteria is to display a wide knowledge of tenses. Whether or not you can deploy them in conversation, make sure you can deploy these tenses in an essay!

If you’re pushing for really top marks, especially in French and Spanish, consider learning some stock-phrases in the subjunctive mood (ask your teacher if you’re unsure what this means). Examiners love it! 

Tip 5 – Be smart with what you learn (Group 1 and Group 2)

Finally, be smart about what you spend your time learning. For Group 1 Literature, for example, it’s unlikely that you will need to know about the many different kinds of rhythm in Shakespearean writing. You would be better off paying close attention to different, more common literary devices, especially for Paper 1. For Paper 2 Literature (not necessarily Language) you should spend real time revising the texts that may come up in the exam. Memorise key details and quotes, pieces of evidence etc. from them. Plan essays on questions that commonly come up on Paper 2. Memorise these plans so that your essays have a strong foundation before you even see the exam.

For Group 2 Languages, no matter what you do, don’t spend your time learning unhelpful verbs and vocab – you can work smart not hard with languages, and see tremendous progress. You’re unlikely to need to describe your daily routine or parts of the body in an IB exam (unless you are a beginner), so instead direct your energy to the different formats asked in the writing exam. 

How are letters signed off in French? What vocabulary would you see on a blog post in Spanish? How formally do you need to address people in different contexts for German? These small details will go a long way to displaying to an examiner that you have attention to detail and competence in these languages. 

We hope Finn’s study tips go a little way towards helping you reach your language goals. As always, work smart not hard! If you’re looking for other revision tips check out our previous blog posts here. If you’d like to work with a tutor to help you with your languages, check out our online private tuition here

Written by Finn Ford

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