Three tips for (even) more successful language learning

Learning a language can be a lot of things. It can be fun. It can be rewarding. It can be an opportunity for travel or career success. But one of the biggest myths about language learning is that it’s quick and easy. That’s not often true, even though some language schools, publishers and online course providers promise super-fast results. They claim they can accelerate the language-learning process, but the reality is that it happens at different speeds for different people.

Learning a second language is rarely quick and easy; in fact, it’s often slow and difficult. At the very least, it’s time-consuming. That’s one of the reasons that motivation is so important: it takes self-control, discipline and focus to learn a language, and some, if not all, of those things come in some way from motivation.

But what else can help the process, especially if you’re studying mostly or completely online? What habits can you adopt that will make you more successful? Here are three of our ideas.

1. Treat language learning like exercise

Image from Istockphoto

Image from Istockphoto

Are you ready for a ‘Learning workout’?

We all know that it’s important to exercise regularly; yet research shows that few of us follow that advice. That’s because most of us don’t enjoy exercise very much, even if we know how important it is. The thing is, once we start exercising, we soon see the benefits.

Similarly, some people don’t like learning languages, and that’s completely natural. (I did love learning languages at school, but I hated Maths; it’s rare for people to enjoy every academic subject, after all.) If you’re one of those people who doesn’t like learning languages very much, then it can help to treat your language learning like an exercise workout:

  • Make it part of your routine.

Most successful exercisers go to the gym at the same time each day or on the same days of the week. It soon becomes a habit, and habits are very hard to break. You can try the same thing with your language learning: make it an ‘unbreakable’ habit by choosing a regular time and place to study.

  • If you don’t have much time, go for intensity.

Some research has shown that short, intense periods of exercise can be as good for you as longer ones. The same can sometimes be true for language learning. If you only have 15 minutes free, try to achieve something concrete in that time by really focusing. Can you memorise a short list of words? Can you study a grammar explanation closely so that you really understand it? Can you write a short text? You might find that 15 minutes of intense focus is more effective than an hour of less focused study.

  • Follow a program.

There’s a difference between an exercise routine and a training program. A training program has a purpose and objectives; an exercise routine is just a series of exercises. A training program requires you to monitor your progress over the long term; an exercise routine is often short. Having objectives and monitoring your progress are both essential to successful language learning. So treat your language learning like a training program: decide what you want to achieve and when you want to achieve it by. Set yourself objectives, and review those objectives regularly. Ask yourself important questions like, ‘Do I feel like I’m doing enough to meet my goals?’ and, ‘Am I making the level of progress I want?’

2. Treat language learning like a job

A survey by Forbes magazine last year claimed that the ‘majority of employees are dissatisfied’ with their jobs. Most of us work because we have to, not because we want to. We work because we get paid, and when we get paid, we can do things with the money that make us happy. It’s great to enjoy your job, and many people do; but it’s also important to remember why you do it, especially if you don’t enjoy it.

The same can be said of language learning. Try to focus on why you’re doing it. Perhaps learning a language will help you at work. Perhaps you want to live in a different country one day. Perhaps you have English-speaking friends that you want to communicate better with. As we mentioned in our previous post on motivation, learning a language can be a tool that helps you achieve other goals in life. The important thing is to make sure that the objectives of your language learning really match your goals. So if you want to speak better English for work, so that you can get a promotion or a different job, then focus on Business English. If you want to be able to communicate with English-speaking friends more confidently, then think about a speaking skills course. Start with the ‘Why’ and then focus on the ‘What’ and ‘How’.

3. Treat language learning like a leisure activity

Image from iStockphoto

Image from iStockphoto

Our final tip is to treat language learning as something fun!

Learning a language is about more than just grammar and vocabulary. It can be a chance to learn about the history and culture of other places. It’s an opportunity to widen your horizons and find out more about the world. So try to think of all of the extra benefits that learning a language can give you: the same benefits as reading a great novel, seeing an interesting film or play, or going to a museum or art gallery. If you start treating your language lessons as a fun activity, then — who knows? — it might just start being one.

So those are three tips from us. If you have any tips to share, it would be great to hear them.

2 Comments on “Three tips for (even) more successful language learning”

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