Autonomous language learning
The term autonomous learning is based on the idea that the whole process of learning (planning, implementation and evaluation) is performed by the student. In both compulsory education and our professional lives, we often follow the instructions of teachers, parents, superiors or other authorities. With self-study on the other hand, we are free to choose content, procedure, times, locations, materials and style of learning (alone or with friends).
Autonomous learning not only helps us develop our language skills, but it also helps us improve our personal organisation skills, which is useful in all aspects of our private, academic and professional lives.
Taking a language course in which the learning process is -“planned”- by a teacher may appear easier, but a self-study path complements this process, especially if a teacher-led course is limited to a certain number of language skills (e.g. grammar or conversation courses).
Anyone can learn autonomously with sufficient motivation. The desire to learn is the best form of motivation. No special gifts are needed: you simply need to find the right learning method for your own personal style and identify your availability and personal needs.
A successful self-study process requires careful planning that takes account of your needs and aims, regularly assessing progress made and difficulties encountered while continually adjusting the learning strategy. Without this you risk unnecessary wasting of time and resources.
You would be best writing out your study programme. Answering a few questions may be useful before you formulate it:
What do I want to learn?
First of all it is important to think about why you want to learn a language, in order to define more concrete aims (e.g. for work, to gain a language qualification, for travelling abroad, etc.) and to identify your priorities, for example certain specific language skills (reading comprehension, oral expression, etc.).
Be realistic in your goals!
What resources do I need?
Using inappropriate resources to achieve your aims may undermine your motivation. For this reason choose tools which correspond to your predetermined aims and interests, while being both pleasant and motivational. Some tips:
- many of the materials available on the shelves of the Multilingual Centre and the Multimedia Language Centre are suitable for those studying languages autonomously (to catalogue);
- many resources are also available free online;
When and how often?
Consider the duration of your learning path and the amount of time you can dedicate to studying (half an hour a day, twice a week, etc.).
In this way you can simulate the regular timetable of a course study time becomes part of your routine, becoming a habit - what time of the day do I find it easiest to concentrate? When am I least tired?
What can help me?
- Finding the right learning style will help you study more effectively. Information and tests concerning learning styles can be found here.
- Knowledge of your language level can also help you study. Self-assessment tools for this purpose are available online: https://europass.cedefop.europa.eu/resources/european-language-levels-cefr, http://www.goethe-verlag.com/tests/index1.htm and http://www.testpodium.com/de/main/sprache.asp
- Periodic progress evaluation, through self-assessment tests (see above) and a meeting with a language tutor, remembering that learning processes are continuous and that mistakes promote learning!
-The creation of a learning diary or a language portfolio, formulating ideas in writing obliges learners to clarify their ideas self consciously. This process helps you to follow through your learning step-by-step, understanding the stages in it and the way you personally learn.
-Here is some advice on how to use the various resources at the Multilingual Centre and the Multimedia Language Centre in an autonomous way!
Where does self-learning happen?
You learn everywhere: on the street, watching a film, chatting with others.
The choice of where to study however, also depends on the resources chosen. Studying from a book or computer, or practising pronunciation are perhaps best done in a quiet, comfortable place, so that you can to take notes or record your voice. On the other hand, it is possible to practice vocabulary or oral comprehension, even on a train or bus, using audio and video material.
The Multilingual Centre in Bolzano and the Multimedia Language Centre in Merano provide technologies, resources, staff and knowledge designed to accompany users in learning one or more languages autonomously.
Success in autonomous learning depends essentially on learners' constancy and ability to capitalise on their mistakes in order to learn in a more targeted and conscious way. Success comes from careful observation, critical reflection and sincere evaluation, as well as readiness to obtain the best results from learning experiences. It is, therefore, fundamentally important:
to be realistic in your objectives;
not to be afraid of making mistakes but learn from them;
to be open to new learning methods;
to keep your desire to learn alive and not be discouraged in the face of obstacles!
Videos in Italian
- Maria Giovanna Tassinari - Selbstlernzentrum Freie Universität Berlin
- Lorenzo Zanasi - Eurach Research Bolzano
Videos in English
- Language advising (University of Leeds) (Link esterno)
- Learner Autonomy (British Council) (Link esterno)
- Learner Autonomy Oxford University Press
- The Channel of the Multilingual Centre about autonomous learning (Link esterno)
Articles on the subject of autonomous learning:
- Enhancing autonomy in self-access language centres: experiences, reflecions, new directions Mélanges Crapel: Revue en didactique des langues et sociolinguistique n°40/1 2019 - (In English and French)
- Learner Development Journal Volume 1: Issue 2 - December 2018
- Devenir conseiller: quels changements pour l’einsegnant? (Link esterno) CARETTE, Emmanuelle / CASTILLO, Désirée - (In French)
- Re-placing the jewel in the crown of autonomy: A revisiting of the ‘self’ or ‘selves’ in self-access. (Link esterno) Everhard, C. J. (2012). Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 3(4), 377-391.- (In English)
- Accessing the self in self-access learning: Emotions and feelings in language advising. (Link esterno) Tassinari, M. G., & Ciekanski, M. (2013). Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 4 262-280. - (In English)
- Learner autonomy and second/foreign language learning (Link esterno) David Little - (In English)
- Learner Autonomy In Language Learning: Student Teachers’ Beliefs, Cem BalçıkanlıGazi University, Turkey (Link esterno) Australian Journal of Teacher Education Vol 35, 1, February 2010 - (In English)
- Archive with different studies & articles (Link esterno) - (In English)
- Language advising (Link esterno) Marina Mozzon-McPherson (In English)
Some other useful suggestions:
- Sprachzentrum der Humboldt Universität Berlin - Tipps zum selbstständigen Sprachenlernen (Link esterno) (in German)
- Sprachenzentrum der Freien Universität Berlin - Lernen zu lernen (Link esterno) (in German)
- Sprachenzentrum der Freien Universität Berlin - Espace Français (Link esterno) (in French)
- Learning paths (Link esterno) - Tante vie per imparare (In English and Italian)
- Consulenza linguistica e apprendimento autonomo delle lingue (Link esterno) (in French)
- Il sito del Learner Autonomy Special Interest Group (Link esterno) (In English)
- Sprachlernberatung: Einführung in den Themenschwerpunkt (Link esterno) (in German)
- Autonomous Language Learning Modules (Link esterno) at Helsinki University Language Centre, Finland (in English)
- Power Point about self-learning (Link esterno) (In English)
- Practical Tips and a lot of pages for download (Link esterno) (In English)
- E-Tandemlernen autonomes Sprachenlernen mit einem Partner (Link esterno) (in German)
And finally... dedication and hard work! Download our free brochure here 10+1 consigli per imparare una lingua (Pdf available in Italian), created in conjunction with cartoonist Fabio Vettori.