Last week I wrote about the first four secrets to language learning success: spend the time, do what you like to do, learn to notice and words over grammar. Today’s post reveals the last three secrets.
5. Be patient
I see many frustrated language learners who get upset because they forget words. They get upset because they don’t understand. Even after listening many, many times to the same content, certain parts remain difficult to understand…that is absolutely normal. What’s more, you will continue to have times when you find it difficult to say what you want to say.
It’s important to realize that the brain is constantly learning. It will constantly learn, change and renew itself. However, it does so on its own schedule. So just because you’ve studied something doesn’t mean you’re going to learn it. You have to accept that it’s not going to happen overnight. It may take six months for certain things to sink in, but all of a sudden they do. Almost without realizing it (and I’ve had this feeling), I’ll go back to a text that I struggled with months earlier and all of a sudden it’s crystal clear to me.
Similarly, in speaking you have these moments of great triumph when you are in a discussion and you are able to express your ideas just the way you wanted to. Maybe the next day you won’t be so successful, but it’s a very gradual process. It’s not obvious which words or which structures in the language the brain is going to learn first or later, so you just have to be patient and believe that what you’re doing is going to lead to the desired result.
Negative thoughts, like the ones you get when you forgot something, or didn’t understand something, are very damaging to the learning process. I’m not a neuroscientist, but there is so much emotion involved in how the brain learns, that it’s very important not to get negative and to be patient. Realize that it’s a long road, hopefully an enjoyable road, but one that will definitely lead to fluency in that language. Fluency need not mean perfection, so if you don’t expect perfection but you do except to constantly improve, you can afford to be patient.
6. Get the tools
If you’re fixing something up around the house, you need the proper tools. Any job is easier if you have the proper tools. So you need to have some kind of listening device, whether that be an mp3 player, an iPod, smartphone or whatever you prefer.
Also, I think you should buy books. Obviously, we at LingQ feel that we have a wonderful platform for language learning, but I would be surprised if most of our members don’t also buy books. A book will last you a long time. It’s not a big investment, whereas language learning is a major investment of your time. So I would suggest anyone beginning in a language should buy one of these beginner series.
If you’re an English speaker, there is the Teach Yourself Series or the Colloquial Series. There’s Assimil, which is available for French speakers and English speakers. There are a number of these starter books. Get one. I will often buy one or two. While my main interest is listening and reading to the dialogue, I also flip through for some of the explanations, never expecting to remember them but as sort of a gradual refresher that helps me notice.
I’ll also buy a quality audio book rather than rely on LibriVox which is free, but where the quality can be uncertain. I use the LingQ app on my iPad, but not everyone is going to spend the money on an iPad. My point is that I don’t think you can do everything for free. You may end up spending more time by using less than satisfactory tools, and that could cost you a lot of time in the long run. So whatever your budget is, make sure you have the proper tools.
7. Become an independent language learner
It’s maybe the most difficult thing to achieve: taking charge of your own language learning.
I believe that only independent language learners are successful and convert themselves into fluent speakers of another language. There are millions of people who go to language class and most of them don’t achieve success. The only way to truly succeed is to take your learning out of the classroom. Spend time alone with the language, pursuing things of interest, listening and reading, interacting with the language in ways that you like, developing the ability to notice, making sure you have the right tools and being patient. All these things that I’ve described in these two posts are the attributes of an independent learner. You have to become independent.
I hear people all the time saying “Why does this language go this way?”, “Is this right or is that right?”, “What does this mean?”. I consider myself an independent language learner having learned 15 and now working on my 16th language, but I never ask myself those questions. Either I can figure it out by looking words up in an online dictionary, or I let it go and don’t worry about it. I know that eventually this pattern or these words will start to make sense to me.
If I want to look up something to do with grammar, it’s easy enough to do today. Just by Googling I can see verb tables or noun declension tables in any language. I have a little grammar book that I occasionally leaf through in the different languages, but I don’t expect that any teacher has to teach it to me. I can access the language, learn from it and explore it on my own, I don’t need structure. Many people prefer to attend class, however, and that is fine. But even as a classroom learner, make sure you take control of your learning.