7 Habits of Highly Effective Language Learners

Here’s a fun post by John Fotheringham of Language Mastery that parodies Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and applies Covey’s habits to language learning. I think they’re great tips – there are lots of important things to take into account when learning a language (in fact, it can be pretty overwhelming!) but I think Fotheringham hits many of the important ones in this list:

Habit 1: Be Proactive—and look for every opportunity to practice your language. There are many opportunities in today’s tech-based world: Skype tutors, language learner exchanges, etc. And some of the best opportunities arrive in unexpected moments – like in the checkout line at the grocery store or on the train after work. Don’t let your lack of language confidence keep you from taking advantage of the opportunities around you to practice and learn.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind—have a definitive language fluency goal. Do you want to sound like a tourist or a native speaker? Plan it out so that you have a clear target for your language learning journey.

Habit 3: Put first things first—meaning, put your language learning first. Today’s world is full of great opportunities, so if language learning is important to you, schedule it in so that it doesn’t get bumped out.

Habit 4: Think win-win—in your language exchanges and conversations. This relates to habit 1. If you find that your conversations with practice partners or tutors are stilted and boring, make them more genuine. Find out not only how they can help you, but how you can help them. Ask a coworker about their family. Discuss groceries with the lady in the checkout line. While you might lack a vocab word here or there, 99% of everyone you talk with will be forgiving when they see that you’re genuinely taking an interest in them.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood—in other words, develop strong listening and speaking skills. Don’t fall into the trap of pretending to listen to someone while really you’re mentally planning out your next sentence. Be real. Maybe it means your next sentence is a little jumbled, but at least it will relate to what the person actually said, and it will show them that you actually listened and cared about them.

Habit 6: Synergize—with foreign cultures. You’ll get nowhere in your language journey if you develop a stand-offish attitude toward the culture associated with the language. Sure, there may be things you disagree with that are traditions or customs of that culture. But do your best to learn from and appreciate the other culture, even if it’s different from what you’re used to.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw—of your language. “There is no finish line in language learning,” says Fotheringham. I love this quote and can vouch for its truthfulness. Language mastery is a journey in and of itself, not a destination. If learning a language is truly important to you, it will become an interwoven part of your daily life. Don’t get lazy and stop looking for opportunities to learn and practice more – or you’ll find that you’ve lost the fluency you worked so hard to gain.


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