In this second episode of our “Learn a Language” coaching course, we’re looking at some of the basic tools which will help you in your learning. We provide a pdf download which you can use to help focus your vocabulary learning each day. The content on this post is restricted to members of the Radio Lingua Club. If you’re already a member then you can access this by logging into your Control Panel and then returning to this page.

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Episode 02 – The 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle


Welcome to this second instalment of our course which provides useful tips and tricks for learning a language. In this week’s episode we’re concentrating on some of the basic tools you can use to help you organise your learning, and there’s a pdf download for you which you may find useful. More about that a little later.

As I mentioned last week, I’m trying to learn some Russian at the moment ahead of a trip to Moscow later this year. I’ve had a really busy couple of weeks and have had very little time to spend on my learning. I was driving home from a meeting today, and I decided to use the time to listen to one of the courses I’m following. However, it’s been two weeks since I last listened and I was really struggling to remember some of the words and phrases I was being tested on. When you’re learning a language there is no doubt that doing a little, often, is much better than spending a few hours on your language every couple of weeks.

A language is a bit like a huge jigsaw puzzle – one of those 3,000 piece puzzles! The pieces of the language fit together and there’s no way you’ll finish it in one sitting. Imagine starting the puzzle and perhaps fitting 10 or 20 pieces together. If you put all the remaining pieces back in the box and then return to the puzzle a few days later, you’ll need to start the process of emptying the box, and starting to sort out the pieces again. If, however, you’d left the pieces out from your first attempt then you’d be able to pick up where you started last time, and if you’re doing this on a daily basis then the puzzle will be fresh in your mind each time you return to it. Today I was emptying the puzzle pieces back out after two weeks of no Russian at all, and I did feel like I was starting at the beginning again!

I’ve seen those jigsaw puzzle mats in catalogues – you know the felt mats where you can lay out the pieces of a puzzle and then roll up the mat and store everything away so that you can return to the puzzle at a later date without worrying that the pieces will go missing? What you need for your language learning is something similar, and it’s something you can find very easily. You simply need a notebook where you can keep a note of the new words and phrases you learn, so that you can return to your learning at a later date and immediately pick up where you left off. Some people like to use a large notebook – A4 or Letter size. Other learners prefer a small notebook which can fit in your pocket. I actually prefer somewhere between the two. There’s no need to buy an expensive notebook, but if you remember back to the last episode, I was stressing the importance of “enjoying the journey”, so you may want to try to find a notebook which you’ll enjoy writing in. This way, as you write your notes, you’ll begin to form a historic document, a record of your language-learning journey, and you’ll be able to look back on your notes and see how your learning has developed over time. I remember a few years ago I found one of my French exercise books from my fourth year in secondary school and it was fascinating reading the essays I had written at the time. I immediately spotted the mistakes I had made and realised how much my French had developed over the years.

Earlier I said that one of the best ways to make progress in your language-learning is to do a little often, rather than cramming lots of learning into infrequent sessions. If you’re looking for the perfect notebook, one thing you may find useful is a diary – one of the one-page-per-day diaries. This way you’ll find you have a reasonable amount of space to make notes on the new vocabulary or grammatical concepts you’ve learned each day. The other advantage of using a diary like this is that you’ll feel obliged to do a little learning every day – it somehow feels wrong to have several blank days in this kind of notebook! Of course, depending on the time of year you may find it difficult to get hold of a diary, but if it happens to be just after the New Year when you’re listening to this, you’ll probably be able to get some very nice page-per-day diaries at hugely reduced prices!

Another very useful thing in your language-learning toolkit is a loose-leaf folder with some dividers where you can collect handouts from your teacher if you’re attending a class or print-outs from web pages (and later in the course we’ll be looking at some practical ways you can use websites for native speakers, regardless of your experience with the language). To accompany this episode I’ve created a printout for you which will help you to learn vocabulary on a regular basis. The printout is in pdf format and you can access it using the links below. There are three sections of the printout:

  • five words or phrases I know already;
  • today’s new words or phrases;
  • notes / examples in context.

Why am I asking you to make a note of words and phrases which you know already? Well, language-learning is all about building on existing knowledge, or sometimes even just recognising that that knowledge exists in the first place. The words and phrases you know already may be words you learned yesterday, or two weeks ago, or two years ago. It doesn’t matter: what’s important is that you pick out random words from your existing knowledge, and this will help you to strengthen your familiarity with these words, and reinforce the fact that you are making progress.

On the printout there’s then a space for you to write down five new words or phrases in the foreign language and in English. There’s hopefully plenty of room for you to write down longer phrases if you’re further on in the language. Remember that these words may appear in the “words you know already” tomorrow or the next day. Sometimes it’s not enough to learn just a word on its own, so I’ve provided a space for you to add any notes or further explanations: you may need to know certain things about the word, for example its gender, or perhaps if there are any changes to the word based on where it appears in the sentence. This will depend on which language you’re learning, and if you’re just starting out don’t worry about it! Just write down the words and phrases as they appear in the vocabulary list of your lesson. Equally you may want to note down examples of the word or phrase in a particular context.

I’ve also included a sample of the printout with my own notes on some of the words I learned today in Russian. I’ve decided to print the words and then use my best Russian handwriting to practise both styles of Russian script. I’ve also given some examples of the new words in sentences. Please note that I’m not intending this example printout to be learning materials – they’re my own notes, and they mean something to me because it’s what I was learning today.

I’m setting you some homework in this episode. For the next seven days (at least!) I’d like you to print out a copy of the handout and complete it with the words and phrases you’re learning. I’d like to know if you feel that this helps you to quantify your learning and make visible progress. Post a comment on the website and let us know what you think, and make sure you keep your handouts together in your loose-leaf folder.

So, today we’ve been looking at a couple of tools which will help you focus your learning and make visible progress: either using a notebook or a page-per-day diary for your notes; and keeping print-outs – and today’s handout – in a loose-leaf folder. Next time we’ll be thinking a little more about organising your learning and helping you to make the most of your time. It’s amazing how much language-learning you can do in the shower! Until then, thanks for listening.



Right-click to download Vocabulary Sheet (blank)

Right-click to download Vocabulary Sheet Sample (Mark’s Russian sheet)

Right-click to download audio (mp3)


    6 replies to "RLN Club – Learn a Language 02"

    • Marjorie Clay

      When will the new lessons for the “coaching” course be posted? I am eager to learn how to select a good dictionary, as well as any other tips you may have to help me learn as much as possible!!



      • radiolingua radiolingua

        Hi Marjorie,

        The coaching course lessons are published every week, and it depends on when you signed up for the course. Each week you’ll receive the next lesson in the series. Episode 2 will be available to you 1 week after you signed up, and episode 3 will be out 2 weeks after you signed up, etc. Hope this helps to answer your question.

    • Ian Banks

      Hi Mark

      I just tried doing the vocabulary sheet from this week’s lesson. I think it is a really good idea because it gives you something practical to do and makes you write the language – something I haven’t been doing up until now with the CBF podcasts. The exercise seems more active to me than listening to the podcasts. The two activities compliment each other nicely but the physical act of writing things down yourself strongly reinforces your knowledge.

      Writing down five words that I thought I knew demonstrated to me that I didn’t really know them because I was unsure of their gender. It also made me learn the spellings properly and go back over some of the old CBF guides to properly understand something I had obviously missed.

      I also found that using words you know as a stimulus to discover new words was really interesting and, for some of my words, quite amusing. It also sparked lots of questions off in my mind about the etymology and usage of the new words. I shall be posting more questions on the forum because of it!

      So in a nutshell, I got a lot from this week’s lesson and, if the rest of the lessons are as good as this, my Club subscription will be well worth it.

      Best wishes,


      • radiolingua radiolingua

        Hi Ian. I’m delighted you found this week’s lesson useful.

    • Kate Thomas

      Hi Mark,
      Having just completed Show Time Spanish I was wondering how useful the Radio Lingua Club would be as my main interest is a continuation of Spanish. I was uncertain how I might use the work sheets you provided in L02. Writing down 5 words I know didn’t work for me because I already have an extensive vocabulary from STS. What I am doing, however, is going back over lessons 21-40 and writing out the phrases & tricky verbs such as cundir that I am a bit wobbly on and am finding this a very useful exercise.

    • Gwynn Evans

      Have just completed the second lesson having discovered how to download on to iTunes.
      Good to have a practical framework to use and I am sure it will help reinforce my learning experience.

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