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I am required to take two semesters of a foreign language for my degree. I do not know if I will make much use of the language I choose or continue study after the two semesters are done. I may not choose to immerse myself with travel.

However, I am a potential Cognitive Science major, and the study of linguistics and language learning is part of what I will be doing in the future. It occurs to me that the process of learning a new language may be a useful learning experience, even if the language itself is not of much use to me.

What resources or practices should I employ to make the most of this opportunity?

As a side note, I am between Japanese and French. My native language is English, and I have studied Spanish and Latin in the past.

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This sounds like an excellent opportunity for all sorts of self-experiments, for example:

  1. You can use vocabulary lists to investigate your forgetting curve like the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus.
  2. You can compare the effectiveness of different ways of learning vocabulary, e.g. flashcards that use translations versus flashcards that use images (at least for concrete things) versus mnemonics versus the method of loci versus the Goldlist method.
  3. If you use flashcards to learn Japanese, you can compare the effectiveness of ways of learning English-to-Japanese (or image-to-Japanese) flashcards: calling the Japanese character to mind versus writing down the answer before looking at the answer. (It seems obvious that the writing would be more efficient, but can this be quantified?)
  4. Learning grammar: learning grammatical rules and doing grammar exercises versus using many flashcards with cloze tests (here: sentences where you need to fill in something that illustrates a specific grammar rule).

For those who have no background in psychology, cognitive science or any other discipline that involves experimentation, see Quantified Self How-To: Designing Self-Experiments by Konstantin Augemberg. (This article has nothing to do with language learning, though.)

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As a resource in your major field of interest, you might consider that the language which you select is in itself a language learning experience, one in which you yourself are the subject.

With that in mind, you could easily create your own resource by maintaining a daily notebook, or log, of what you have observed the teaching methods of your teaching assistants and professors. Are some or all of your language classes on-line, or are some or all of them they held in 'bricks and mortar' classrooms? What is the effect upon you. Are you finding those methods effective in learning the language? If not, what might you suggest an alternative way or method that would be of greater benefit to you? What teaching materials have you found to be better than others?

Write it down ...

As the other students are your peers in your language class, you might consider the actions and reactions of your peers as having an impact on on your study of the language, i.e., in what way does their behavior or their personalities impact on your learning experience? Are your peers helpful, and an important part in your language studies? Or does their behavior impact you negatively? Does studying the language with a small group of friends or other students a big help, or more of a social gathering that really does/doesn't help to grasp the details of the language you decide to study?

Write it down ...

There are physical aspects of your learning environment that affect your learning of a language, such as location (classroom with a view, or one down in the basement with no windows). What is the average room temperature -- carry a small digital thermometer to find out and add that to the data you are collecting. Are there room temperature that make concentration come easy, or more difficult?

Write it down ...

What I've described in answer to your question doesn't need to be done for only your language class. You can easily turn your entire university/college learning experiences as being one big personal lab, and again, you as the subject as well as observer in all of your classes. It really doesn't matter what language you select, but personally, having studied and learned Japanese and hating French -- I think German would be a better choice.

So enjoy and appreciate your college/university experience ... and learn well !!

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