Seven Tips for Effective Language Learning

Seven Tips for Effective Language Learning

One of the most influential “self-help” books on the market may be Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. While the original habits Covey discusses are applied in a more generic context, John Fotheringham of Language Mastery has adapted Covey’s 7 habits to apply specifically to language learners.

Habit 1: Be Proactive—seek out opportunities to practice. It’s easy as a language learner to fall into a routine of listening, reading, and writing all on your own. However, finding friends, tutors, neighbors, or coworkers who are willing to converse with you is a key part of successfully acquiring a language. It simply isn’t possible to master a second language having never spoken a word of it to anyone.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind—have a definitive language fluency goal. Are you wanting basic tourist-level fluency in a variety of languages? Or do you want to sound like a native speaker? Take time to clearly define your end goal for the language you’re learning.

Habit 3: Put first things first—meaning, put your language learning first. Life is busy and filled with more great opportunities than anyone can realistically take advantage of. If learning a language is important to you, then set aside specific amounts of time for working on it, otherwise it likely won’t ever happen.

Habit 4: Think win-win—in your language exchanges and conversations. Have you attempted to apply Habit 1 only to find that the conversations are stilted and not very meaningful? Instead of treating your conversations as a practice opportunity, show genuine interest in the people you talk with. Strike a conversation with that person behind you in line at the grocery store. Ask a coworker about their family. Sure, you may find yourself lacking a vocabulary word here or there, but your genuine intent to learn more about them will make up for it. Conversing will become more enjoyable, and you may even develop lifelong friends in the process.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood—in other words, develop strong listening and speaking skills. Make sure that you don’t become so focused on planning out your next sentence that you forget to listen to what the other person is saying. While speaking is a difficult skill to acquire in a second language, it should overshadow the skill of being able to pay attention to what someone else is saying.

Habit 6: Synergize—with foreign cultures. The farther you get in your language study, the more you’ll realize that you’re not just acquiring a language, you’re learning about a whole new culture. Do your best to understand and respect the culture you’re learning about. You will find that there are aspects that you both agree and disagree with, but don’t develop a stand-offish attitude about the cultural traditions and customs held by the speakers of the language you’re learning.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw—of your language. “There is no finish line in language learning,” says Fotheringham. Since languages constantly change and evolve, there are always more words to learn and cultural nuances to master. Make sure to never consider your language learning journey “complete”—otherwise you may lose even the skills you’ve already mastered.

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