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Become an Expert Language Learner

By Jessica Aggrey

There are many ways that you can study another language and lots of articles and resources to give you ideas for ways to practice. Of course, studying is an important part of learning a language. However, studying isn’t the only tool that helps you learn a language. It’s important to develop your language learning strategies.  This article talks about some of these strategies that expert language learner use, and how you can harness (use to your advantage) these tools to help you.

Learning a language isn’t just an activity. It’s a skill set that people develop over time. Just ask someone who has learned three or four languages. I imagine they’ll tell you that their second language was the hardest to learn. That’s because they weren’t just learning the language itself. They were also learning how to learn a language. Once those language learning skills are learned, you can use them again and again, making the process of learning a third, fourth, or fifth language easier.

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Expect Language Diversity 

Various spices at a marketWhen you start learning your second language, you will come to a point where you realize just how diverse languages are. Learning another language is not as simple as finding the equivalent words in the other language and then using them instead of words from your native language. Languages are incredibly unique. They all have their own ways of structuring and creating meaning. They are all languages, yes, but they also all have their own unique flavors and characteristics. 

Novice (unskilled) language learners often try and make sense of a new language by looking at it through the rules of their own language, but this doesn’t always work. In fact, it can cause you to make mistakes in the new language.  You need to be able to embrace these strange new structures instead of trying to fit them into a mold that wasn’t made for them. Effective language learners can step out of the perspective they’ve grown up with and embrace strange new systems that often break language rules in their native tongue. Just because it feels wrong to you, doesn’t mean that it is wrong in the new language.

Embrace Feeling Lost

Hand holding a compass

Unfortunately, some people quit at the beginning because they feel confused and lost. Other people miss important practice opportunities that can help them become fluent because these activities make them feel confused because they don’t understand everything.

Take for example the language skill of listening. There are people who don’t listen to natural speech because they don’t understand it; but if they don’t listen, they’ll never understand. It’s language learning. You will feel confused at times, and you won’t understand everything. That’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just part of the process. Sometimes you just need to expose yourself to language even if you don’t really understand much because these activities will really help you improve.

When you don’t understand or you feel confused, don’t give up, and don’t back down. Push through. When I learned Spanish, I watched a whole series of a Mexican telenovela. It was hours and hours long. When I first started watching it, I understood around 15% of what was being said. If I had quit then, my Spanish would not have improved. I didn’t quit, and by the time I watched the season finale, I understood closer to 80% of what was being said, and my pronunciation and speaking had also gotten a lot better.What an improvement!

Use Mistakes

Person Studying

Mistakes are part of learning a language. They aren’t bad. They aren’t a sign telling you that you can’t do it. They aren’t proof that you’re stupid. They’re simply a part of the process and can actually really help you. No one ever has learned a language without making a mistake. Effective language learners use mistakes to their advantage to help them improve. Take note of what mistakes you’re making, and be aware of them to help you improve in the future.

Resist Fear and Anxiety


 Unfortunately, many people trying to speak in a new language feel stressed and anxious. What if I mess up? What if they can’t understand me? What if I say something stupid? Instead of letting these questions rule your head, adopt a new attitude. Ask yourself “What if I let fear stop me from practicing??” That’s the scary question. You’ll never improve if you don’t practice!

Imagine a toddler who is just starting to speak. They babble (make senseless sounds) a lot. You need to be like that toddler. You need to babble everywhere. Practice as much as you can. Who cares if at times you don’t make too much sense. You will eventually become fluent because practice is the only way you’re going to learn!

Be Thirsty! Be Excited! 

Very excitedThis is critical (really important). In this context, the word thirsty doesn’t mean needing water. It means you must really really want to learn the language. You can’t be passive. Going to class and then throwing your backpack in the corner for the rest of the week will get you nowhere. You need to let the desire to learn consume you. You must be fascinated by what you’re learning and enthralled (very excited) as you watch your ability to community increase. You need to do everything you can to practice. Don’t be passive. Be passionate! Be thirsty to learn as much as you possibly can!

Be Your Own Teacher 

Typing on the computer

This brings us to the last point. Effective language learners realize that they are their own best teachers. Yes, taking a class certainly is helpful, but in all of the hours that you’re not in class, you can still be learning. You should still be learning! Teach yourself. There are so many resources to choose from that can help you. There are also so many things you can do to practice. Give yourself homework assignments and complete them. Search for information, solve problems, and learn. You can do it! You don’t have to wait for someone else to teach you. Learning a language isn’t a passive process. It’s very active. So be active, and teach yourself something new today, and something new tomorrow, and the day after that. The more time you dedicate, the quicker you’ll learn.

If you haven’t yet started learning a second language, it’s not too late. It’s a great experience that can broaden your perspective and views of the world, connect you with new people and cultures, and certainly make traveling even that more rewarding. What are you waiting for?


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