We’ve all come across people who are referred to as having a ‘gift’ or being ‘talented’ when it comes to languages. But what exactly is it that sets this group apart from the rest?
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) ran a study, based on studies by Rubin and Stern, which found 6 common strategies used by ‘good language learners’1. Let’s look at each and suggest what this means for our own language learning.
1. Discover your own learning style
There has been a lot of research on learning styles and it’s generally understood that learners have different preferences with how they like to learn. The most successful language learners have managed to find out what works for them and used this knowledge to help their study.
Take a learning style test to find out your learning preferences.
2. Get involved in the language-learning process
Take the time to consider how you are learning and whether your current efforts are achieving the results you want. For example, you could make a decision to correct every mistake in your speaking. Or your could decide not to correct at all. The amount of self-correction may depend on what type of activity you are doing – if it’s focused on accuracy perhaps you could correct more mistakes, but if it’s based on fluency you could correct less and focus more on just communicating your message.
3. Become aware of language as: a) a system, b) communication
Most likely, the reason you are learning English has something to do with communication. It’s more than just learning how the language works – the words, the grammar rules, the pronunciation – it’s also about what you can do with the language. A strong language learner puts effort in to learn, store and review these systems of language. She is also aware of the importance of tone, formality and how appropriate her choice of words are for specific situations. She takes the time to practice her fluency, building up the muscle memory in her tongue to smoothly pronounce difficult words and phrases. She actively develops her listening skills by practising it daily.
4. Constantly expand your language knowledge
I’ve heard of good language learners being known as ‘magpies’ – named after the curious birds known to steal shiny objects and take them back to their nests. A good magpie learner is curious about language and asks plenty of questions. He notices interesting pieces of language when watching TV, noting them down and looking them up in the dictionary later. Before class, he reviews his old notes and looks up a few words on the class topic. After class, he reviews the new language and decides to read up further on the topic. The magpie is greedy with language and maximises every opportunity to discover new things.
5. Develop your second language as a separate system
Languages are different to each other. While ‘apple’ may translate fairly consistently from one language to another, many words do not have a direct translation and can draw up different associations and feelings in the second language. As such, the ‘good language learner’ is able to consider the second language as completely separate to the mother tongue. While in ‘second language mode’, she even thinks in her second language. She is aware that constantly translating between her mother tongue and second language is time-consuming and may slow her learning. She is also aware that her new language does not always behave like her mother language and doesn’t let that frustrate her.
6. Accept the demands of second language learning
Language learning generally requires a great deal of effort and hard work in order to succeed. For most of us, this may require some sacrifice in our lives in order to find the time to spend on study and practice. The most successful learners find ways to make a habit out of language learning, so that the daily practice becomes as routine as brushing teeth or taking a shower.
Do you use any of these language learning methods? Are there any that you'd like to try to do more? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
1 Naiman, 1978
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