Tips on How to be a Successful Language Learner

June 28, 2018

After learning and teaching languages for years myself, I have found some tips for language learners to better understand the target language and culture, as well as improve their learning outcomes and language proficiency. These are just different ways that I have been using as both a language learner and language teacher, and hopefully they can provide some insights for learners who are still struggling with language learning.


1. Don't solely depend on the language classes or the teacher.

This may sound like a cliche, but I've seen a lot of language learners do this. Many language learners assume that they spend the time and money on language classes, and they think that investment is more than suffice. However, many language learners still find it difficult to acquire the target language, let alone apply it in real-life scenarios, because they do not know that the language they learn in a classroom is usually very artificial, which is not how the native speakers of that language use it. Well, this does not mean that language classes are a waste of time or money; instead, language classes should serve as a place where learners form a solid foundation of the grammatical structures and vocabulary, and they should take it out of the classroom for practical application in real-life situations.


2. Use it, Use it, and Use it!

Another cliche! However, many learners still do not really use the languages they are learning even though this is an open secret. Many of my students have come to me with the questions "How do I use it?", or "Where do I use it?" or "Whom should I practice it with?". At first I thought these questions were valid because they can be potential drawbacks that hinder learners from learning and practicing the authentic language. Yet, I later discovered that these are merely excuses! In fact, no matter where you learn the language, you can always find places and people to practice the language. Well, at least you have your language teacher, right? Actually even if you can't find someone to practice the language, language learners are living in a most convenient age where all sorts of resources are accessible. Movies, TV shows, music, weblogs, newspapers, magazines..., you name it. There are tons of ways to practice and enhance your language ability. The question is whether you want to do it or not.


3. Learning a language is all about IMITATION!

Wait, what? Are we talking about the "Imitation Game"? Well, more or less. If you want to learn the most natural expressions, the most authentic phrases, or the most native-like pronunciation and intonation, the only way to achieve those is to imitate how the native speakers talk and use the language. It makes sense, right? As mentioned in the 2nd tip, there are so many different resources available nowadays for language learners, the only thing you have to do is to go out there and make the most of them for learning. Well, compared to language classes, these resources should be more attractive and entertaining, right? Unless you have great teachers like these here at Neighborhood. Let me tell you, I watched "Friends" 5 times and kept tons of notes of the script just to learn the idiomatic expressions and the culture, and I was talking as I watched the series just to practice. If I can do it, so can you!



4. When you don't understand it, you compare it.

Many people may find this a false statement, especially those nerds who believe in the so-called "first language interference". However, I personally find it a very practical method to master grammar and vocabulary, and even idiomatic expressions in learning a language, so do a lot of my students who used to struggle in understanding the new concepts in a new language. Even though all languages have distinctive grammatical features and derive from different cultural backgrounds, there are still tons of features that all languages share. So the next time you find something beyond your comprehension, step back and compare it with your first language. I can guarantee you, that most of the time you will find it the same or very similar to your native language. So what remains is the little bit that is different from your own language, and how hard do you think it would be to learn that little bit then?


5. Set your brain in a different mode.

This has also been mentioned by many language teachers and learners, but few people really set their brains in the target language mode. So how do we do it? It is simple, but it also requires you to cultivate a habit gradually. Here are what I did, and I am still doing these things. First, talk to yourself and think in the target language, and you can start from the trivial things in life. Everybody talks to themselves anyway, so why not try to do it in the target language then? Second, be diligent and try to think of how to say everything. This may sound a little bit intimidating, but it actually is very useful and rewarding. What you have to do is basically think how you say or describe something in the target language when you see it. This is hard to start, but you will find it even harder to stop once you start it!


6. Don't be embarrassed by your mistakes because nobody cares!

This is probably one of the biggest reasons why so many language learners fail because they are burdened by the fear that they will be laughed at if they make a mistake. Well, there might be some people who will laugh at you, but these are usually people who laugh at others on everything. So what should you do? Just ignore them. You should have a clear mindset that you are making mistakes because you are still learning the language, because you are trying really hard to achieve excellence. Instead of being embarrassed by your mistakes, you should be proud of yourself because you are making an effort. If this makes you feel better, I can guarantee you that if you listen carefully enough, you will find that everyone has different sorts of mistakes when they talk in their own languages, because this is basically the way language is supposed to be. If the native speakers are making mistakes, you should be bold enough to make mistakes as well since you are still a language learner. However, bear in mind that you should spare no effort to make your language as accurate as possible, even though you don't have to be embarrassed.


7. Be a language teacher yourself.

Yes, you heard me right. The best way to master a language is to teach it to others, whether it is grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation. This applies not only to language learning, but to all learning. Once you can present something you have learned to someone else and make them understand it and learn it, it means that you have truly learned it. Basically, you want to be a language teacher yourself if you want to be a successful language learner.


Alright, so those are some of the suggestions or tips I want to share with you. I know that no matter how many tips there are, you are the key to determining whether you will be successful or not. So if you want to improve your language ability and proficiency, start today instead of waiting for someone to tell you that you don't have to work to achieve excellence, because that is something that will never happen.

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