How Metacognition Boosts Your Language Learning

Immerse insights: 

  • We learn the most by reflecting on our past experiences
  • Metacognition, or thinking about your thoughts, helps you move information from your short-term to long-term memory
  • Immerse's expert Language Guides are trained to help you facilitate reflection exercises that work best for your learning style

Your daily dose of philosophy

As the philosopher John Dewey once said,

"We do not learn from experience…We learn from reflecting on experience.”

If you have taken lessons in Immerse, you’ll notice that at the end of every class your Guide gives you and your fellow Members a few minutes to reflect on what you did.

Asking students to reflect on a lesson - whether through a written assignment or an informal group discussion - is a pretty common strategy among language teachers for helping students solidify their learning. 

But how exactly does thinking back on something you’ve done help you learn?

Thinking about your thoughts

The key to the effectiveness of reflections is metacognition, which basically means thinking about thinking.

By actively considering past performance, we can consciously apply what we’ve figured out to our future performance. 

Reflecting at the end of a lesson helps you consolidate what you’ve just learned and move information from short-term into long-term memory.

During an Immerse class, for instance, you might hear a new phrase for giving advice, “you’d better.”

You can immediately use that phrase in a sentence like “You’d better go to the hospital,” but will you be able to remember it tomorrow?

The effort of recalling that phrase at the end of the lesson will push the phrase a little deeper into your memory.

In other words, reflection is part of what turns practice into actual learning.

In educational contexts, metacognition is more than just thinking about thinking - it’s also learning about learning.

A wide range of learning strategies exists for learners to draw on when working to master a new skill or absorb new knowledge, but some strategies work better for some people than others, or better in some contexts than others.

Reflection helps you work out what strategies help you (and are likely to help you again in the future) and which do not.

For instance, your friend may remember irregular verbs by singing song lyrics that contain examples while you may benefit more from taking a deep breath and clearing your mind for a moment.

Knowing what works best for you is a product of reflecting on past trial and error.

Reflection also works by raising awareness.

If upon reflection you realize that you don’t really understand when to use the different ways of saying you’re sorry in Spanish, you’ll start paying attention to the contexts where others use them.

So in a sense, reflection trains you to become a more autonomous learner.

When you are in the habit of reflecting, you develop the ability to notice new grammar or phrases anywhere you hear the language spoken, even outside of lessons. 

Becoming a master of reflection

You can count on your expert Language Guides to set aside time at the end of each lesson to reflect.

They know how important reflection is (for themselves as educators too), and they enjoy the chance to chat with you about it.

This is why you may notice your Guide posing several types of questions after lessons, such as “In what other situations can you use what you learned today?” and “What from today's lesson do you need to work on?”

But reflection isn’t a skill you have to leave behind when you exit the lesson!

The following steps will help you tap into the power of metacognition beyond Immerse as well.

1) Set aside reflection time whenever you practice

Whenever you plan to take a lesson, join a meetup in the Social Lounge, or watch a gripping telenovela, be sure to budget a few minutes to reflect afterwards on new phrases you heard, ideas you struggled to express, and any mistakes you think you might have made. You can do this socially by meeting up with other Members in the Social Lounge after class, asynchronously by posting your thoughts on the Immerse Discord Channel, or on your own in the quiet of your own space. The important thing is just to take the time to stop and think.

2) Think about the experience from different angles

There are many different aspects of a learning experience you might reflect on. Here are some ways you might reflect on an experience inside Immerse:

  • Objective reflection: Take a moment to recall the experience itself. What did you do? Who did you do it with? How actively did you participate? Try to replay everything in your mind and watch it like a movie.
  • Emotional reflection: Think about how you felt during the experience. What parts did you enjoy? What parts felt challenging? How do you feel about the experience now that it’s over?
  • Language reflection: Now reflect on language learning. Were you exposed to new grammar, words, or cultural ideas? Did you practice skills you were already working on? Do you still have unanswered questions? 
  • Goal-setting reflection: Consider what you will take away from this experience and apply to future experiences to improve your skills. Where can you imagine using anything new that you learned? Where could you find more exposure to the topics or content to practice it further?

3) Identify the takeaways

So you’ve set aside some time, you’ve reflected on the entire experience - now what? 

The final step is to identify the key takeaways.

What are the most important things you’ve learned, and what will you do to make progress moving forward?

This step might include setting specific language goals for yourself, like spending an hour per week listening to Spanish news broadcasts or practicing a verb tense.

It could also include strategically planning the lessons you’ll take next, such as taking a lesson twice to solidify the ideas, or taking a lesson below your level for review or above your level for a challenge.

Ultimately, at Immerse we believe the art of metacognition is a successful part of language learning, and we encourage our members to be active learners.

Check out our blog Optimize Your Learning Before, During, and After VR Lessons for more tips on active learning!

*Sign up for a free Immerse membership here.