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Effective Language Learning: Drills

There are two fundamental types of study: Drill and practice.

Drilling is the act of trying to improve a specific component of language. 

Usually this is something that is too difficult to focus on when you are trying to practise. These are the language- and fluency-focused activities. 

Drill is about learning those parts you need to improve without worrying as much about how they go together.

Practice is everything else. It is using the language in an integrated fashion. 

These are the meaning-focused activities. Practice should be about blending and honing the skills and knowledge you already have with less focus on gaining new knowledge.

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Drilling is an effective way to fix weaknesses and improve at a faster rate.

 You can drill grammar or vocabulary when you encounter unfamiliar forms or words in your input, or you can drill specific skills. 

Here are some common drills learners use:

• Writing things down in a workbook — many learners find the act of writing to be helpful for memorization

• Looking up words and concepts

• Exercises — These can take a variety of forms

• Flashcards

• Studying word lists

• Practising speaking aloud and other fluency-focused activities

A good drill exercise:

• emulates the real language as much as possible, using real language examples with natural sentences for context

• is relevant to the weaknesses currently preventing you from achieving your goals

• focuses on building skills or knowledge crucial to understanding

A bad drill would:

• be irrelevant to the content you are using

• be irrelevant to your goals or weaknesses

• focus on aspects of the language that you will come to acquire through input anyway that do not prevent you from understanding your content

It’s also recommended to avoid over-doing drills. A lot of the skills learners choose to drill will be developed over time with input anyway. 

This is why basic workbook grammar exercises are not a recommended drill. Instead, use input and practice as much as you can. 

Drill when you have identified a specific weakness important to your goals. The most common drill activity is ordinary vocabulary flashcard study.

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