We often hear of people who have mastered five, six, seven, ten, (or even more) languages! These people, polyglots, collect languages like other people collect stamps or refrigerator magnets, and seemingly with the same ease. It seems like an impossible feat, especially for those of us who have trouble learning just one or two languages. So what’s the secret? Well, there isn’t just one magic trick that helps the brain absorb language. If you could be a fly on the wall in the daily lives of successful language learners, you would notice that polyglots share many of the same habits. In this article we’ll let you in on some of these behaviors of successful language learners, so that you, too, can become bi-, tri-, or multilingual!
Habits of Successful Language Learners that You Should Adopt Today
Master a Routine
Routine might be the most important habit that successful language learners have in common. They realize how essential it is to make language learning something they do consistently and automatically.
Whether you prefer reviewing first thing in the morning, or as you are getting ready for bed at night, pick a time for language learning and try to stick to it. Yes, this will take some self-discipline, and different people form habits differently than others. It may take some people just a week or two to consistently fit language learning into their daily routine, while it takes others several months. Business coach Tom Bartrow proposes an interesting model for habit formation that details the three phases we go through during this process and how to combat a lack of motivation.
Make Good Use of Free Time
Most polyglots are just like you and me; learning language is not their full-time job. So how could they possibly fit practicing multiple languages into their daily schedules?
The answer is that you probably have more free time than you think. If you commute to work on public transportation, for example. Or as you’re waiting for water to boil for a pasta dinner. Or even during your bathroom break (okay, maybe this one is a little gross!). These are all great opportunities for a quick review session. Even just five to ten minutes can be much more beneficial than you might assume. If you are really motivated to learn a new language, you won’t scroll through Facebook for an hour when you get home from work. Instead, you’ll spend some of that time to learning some new flashcards or grabbing coffee with a conversation partner. You’ll be surprised at how much these little bursts of extra time devoted to language will help you progress.
Review is important because of the way our brain works and stores information. Think about it this way. If someone gave you their phone number one time and you stored it in your phone, what are the chances of you remembering it a year later, even if you called them every day? Hint: very slim. But what if they gave you their phone number and instead of putting it into your phone’s memory, you wrote it down and actually dialed it every day? By the end of the year, you’ll not only have their number memorized, but you will probably remember it for the rest of your life!
This is the same with language. You may be familiar with the saying, “Use it or lose it.” If we don’t put what we have learned into practice through review, we won’t retain much. MosaLingua uses the Spaced Repetition System (SRS) to remind you to review your flashcards at optimal intervals.
Successful language learners know that making mistakes doesn’t equal failure. In fact, it is an integral part of the learning process. This is why polyglots make a habit of taking risks. When traveling, test out your new language skills by asking someone in the street for directions instead of asking Google. In conversation, instead of using a simple sentence structure that you master, try forming your thoughts into a new complex structure that you are trying to learn. Even if your grammar isn’t perfect, or your accent needs some work, you will actually learn faster by taking these kinds of small risks.
By getting in the habit of pushing yourself to take risks like these, you will become more comfortable venturing out of your comfort zone. As your willingness for risk-taking develops, so will your language skills.
Set Attainable Goals
Another habit of successful language learners is to set both stretch goals and SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timebound). It’s great to aim to become fluent, but if you only have this stretch goal in mind, you will quickly lose motivation. Fluency doesn’t develop overnight, so it’s important to set attainable goals along the way. Your SMART goals can be as simple as learning five new words each review session, or reading one news article in your target language every day.
Keep a list of your goals handy so that you are reminded of them often. For example, make a sticky note to put on your desk or on the refrigerator. When you complete your goals, reward yourself – treat yourself to a foreign film and popcorn!
Observe and Immerse
Finally, successful language learners make a habit of observing and immersing themselves in the language they are learning. Observation is important because not all learning happens in textbooks. A lot can be learned just by watching natives, hanging on to the expressions they use and their speech patterns.
They also take opportunities to immerse themselves very seriously, and make the most of these authentic learning experiences. Even if you can’t travel, that’s okay! You can still immerse yourself and observe natives by using film, TV series, books, newspapers, Skype conversations, and many more resources.
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