How to Talk about Language Learning

How to Talk about Language Learning

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”
Frank Smith, a psycholinguist recognized for his contributions in linguistics and cognitive psychology

Dear language learner, congratulations! You’ve been learning English for quite some time, and you’ve definitely achieved something. You can make yourself understood, your listening skills are getting better and better, and grammar doesn’t seem so scary anymore. But there is always something new to learn, int’s there? And this something is likely to be vocabulary. How do you memorize it? What works for you and what doesn’t? Feel free to share your thoughts and experience in the comments below, because today we’re talking about language learning. Read on for useful vocabulary related to this exciting and always relevant topic…


When you are reading in a foreign language, you should try to get the gist of the text. You will come across words you don’t recognize, but you can often go through the text again. If so, try this:

  1. Identify the new words and phrases which seem to be important. Try to guess the meaning form the context, and/or look them up in a dictionary.
  2. Keep a record of the words in a notebook, and, if possible, make a note of any special information. For example, is the word formal or informal? Is it used in a particular kind of construction?
  3. Write a translation if it helps; sometimes it isn’t necessary.
  • Gist /dʒɪst/ – the main idea or the most important point of something that someone has written or said: Reading for gist is all about getting the ideas of the text by skimming it rapidly and ignoring the grammatical words. (Skimming is reading something quickly and not very carefully.)
  • To come across sth. – to find sth. by chance: I came across a word I’d never seen before.
  • To go through sth. – to examine or search something very carefully: The good thing about short stories and articles is that you can easily go through them. 
  • To look sth. up – to try to find a particular piece of information by looking in a book or on a list, or by using a computer: I looked the idiom up.
  • To keep a record of sth. – to preserve certain information so you can refer to it in the future: I keep a record of all new grammar constructions.
  • To make a note = to take a note. If you jot down a note, you take/make it in a quick informal way: I jotted down some notes during the class. If you make a mental note, you make a particular effort to pay attention to sth. so that you will remember it later: 1) I made a mental note to ask the teacher about the expression. 2) I made a mental note of the expression.

Related: “How to Learn Vocabulary

Make a mental note to make notes of new vocabulary!


Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You learn by trial and error.

The classroom is an opportunity to practice speaking, so make the most of it.

There are certain things, such as irregular verbs, that you need to learn by heart.

Saying something out loud can help you to practice the pronunciation and remember it.

Don’t miss lessons or you’ll get behind with your work and find it difficult to catch up.

Don’t give up. Stick at it and you’ll get there in the end.

  • Trial and error – a way of finding a good method that involves trying several possibilities and learning from your mistakes: 1) It’s just a process of trial and error. 2) You learn through/by trial and error.
  • To make the most of sth. – to use sth. so that it gives the greatest benefit: It’s your only chance, so make the most of it.
  • To learn sth. by heart – to memorize sth. (= to learn sth. by rote): 1) Children still learn their times tables by rote. 2) Ask Becky to recite the poem – she learned it by heart.
  • To say sth. out loud – to say sth. so it can be heard: Do you say words out loud to help you to remember them?
  • To get behind with sth. – to do sth. not on time, and then have more to do later: He was ill for ages, and unfortunately he got behind with his studies.
  • To catch up with sb. – to reach the level of others who are more advanced: I missed several lessons, so now I have to catch up with the others in the class.
  • To stick at sth. – to continue with sth. even though it’s difficult: If you start something, do you generally stick at it?
  • To get there – to achieve sth. after a period of work or effort: Don’t stress out about it, you’ll get there eventually.

Related: “Phrasal Verbs: Learning & Studying

You’ll get there!


Tom and Harry are twin brothers. Tom had set his sights on going to university to study linguistics, but some of his teachers told him his grades were not up to scratch. So, he decided to work harder, burning the candle at both ends and studying long hours. As a result, his work improved in leaps and bounds, and he got a place at university.

Harry, on the other hand, was naturally clever. When he was younger, all his teachers thought he was on track for a place at university. In his last couple of years at school, however, he started getting poor grades and had a lot of ground to make up in order to improve. Unlike his brother, though, he didn’t work round the clock, and as a result he didn’t get into university.

  • To set one’s sights on sth. – to decide to achieve sth.: I’ve set my sights on mastering another foreign language. 
  • Up to scratch – up to a satisfactory standard or quality: My language skills are not up to scratch.
  • To burn the candle at both ends – to work too hard as well as trying to do other things, so that you do not get enough sleep because you go to bed late and get up early: Students often have to burn the candle at both ends.
  • In/by leaps and bounds – progressing rapidly: She has progressed by leaps and bounds.
  • To be on track for sth./to do sth. – to be working on and likely to achieve sth.: 1) You are on track for success. 2) We are on track to get the certificate.
  • To make up (lost) ground – to become successful again after having had problems: I’m trying to make up ground by studying long hours.
  • Round the clock – all the time: You just can’t work round the clock.

Did this post help you enrich your vocabulary? If it did, subscribe for more posts like this. Thank you for reading!

Materials used: “Oxford Word Skills Intermediate” by R.Gairns and S.Redman, “Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Intermediate” by R.Gairns and S.Redman, “English Idioms in Use Advanced” by F.O’Dell and M.McCarthy


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