4 Tried and True Language Learning Techniques


Learning comes in a variety of styles and with a variety of methods. As a teacher (and a mom) I am constantly looking for ways to help children learn effectively. Thanks to experience, training and being able to connect with so many amazing teachers, I am always coming up with new ways of engaging children and helping them observe, question and discover the world around them. 


Some methods, however, are tried and true and I wanted to make sure we could use some of the best language-learning techniques and adapt them for use in our app. After all, we wanted to make a tool that would support parents and teachers, while being fun and intuitive enough for kids to enjoy using. I’m going to break down some of our techniques and hopefully inspire you to use them in real life! 


Gradual Immersion

We have long held Total Immersion as the golden standard for language learning. You want to learn a language fluently? Well, then throw yourself into a place where all you will hear is that language. This is actually greatadvice, if you already have a strong basis in the language. But as has been my observation, children will easily tune out things that they simply can’t understand. It’s overwhelming, causes anxiety, and frankly, it’s just boring! 


This is why we have introduced the use of Spanish gradually into Spanish Safari. Children, even those who have 0 background in Spanish, will know exactly what is going on and will gradually become accustomed to the use of Spanish. As the game progresses, less English and more Spanish is used, because they have already been exposed to and internalized the language being used in the game. 


This concept of gradual immersion comes from the successes that can be seen with ELL support and bilingual classrooms. When children come in to an environment that is supportive, familiar and comfortable, they can gain the confidence to absorb the rich language in their environment. 


First Language First, Target Language Second

I addressed this concept in a previous blog post. It’s a technique I use in class and with my own children all the time. If I am working with an English Language Learner, for example, I will first say a phrase in Spanish and then I will say it in English. This simply allows the child to understand what you want to say and then helps them focus on listening and repeating the new words you are sharing. 



Use of Repetitive Language 

There’s an old saying that you need to hear something at least 7 times before you remember it. That’s actually based on research and psychologists such as Ebbinghaus and linguists such as Paul Pimsleur did a lot of work on the matter. Basically, Ebbinghaus discovered that there is a curve to forgetting things and that the greatest decline occurs in the first 20 minutes, then in the first hour, then in 24 hours, etc. He also documented “the recencyeffect,” which describes the increased recall of the most recent information because it is still in the short-term memory, and “the primacy effect” which means you will be able to remember the first items in a list better, because you rehearse them more and commit them to your long-term memory. 


All of the above can be seen in the classroom and we know that itt takes repetition for children to internalize what we are teaching. We repeat it several times with the first introduction, the we repeat these things throughout the weekly lesson. We then go back and review and help children recall things learned in previous weeks. 


In Spanish Safari and English Safari, we have done just that. We used Spaced Repetition as we introduce, use and periodically recall vocabulary and phrases. 


Use of Images and Pictures

One of the best ways to teach is by using many images! Drawings and photographs are the best way to communicate information when language is a barrier. Using images while introducing new vocabulary is a great way to build rich language, without relying on translation. This is one of the most important techniques used in our games. 


In my classroom I use picture books to teach language (through Dialogic Reading), I use pictures on the Word Wall, I use Images to go along with poems and songs, I hang them all over my classroom to have something to discuss with my students, etc. It just made sense to use this same technique in Spanish Safari! Which is why we use both a beautiful 3D world and a variety of 2D images to teach vocabulary. 



The above are just some of my favorite real-life language-learning techniques and they made sense for use with technology. Nothing can replace real-life teaching and real world interactions, but technology can be an amazing asset and tool to pair with our educational efforts. 


What language-learning techniques do you use in yourclassroom or at home with your children? What do they look like? We would love to hear from you in the comments! 


About the Author

Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari,  a Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. 

Keli Garcia Allen