Why aren’t you getting better at learning a language?

Starting with why, because this is the root of the whole problem, the essentiality. 

I will not bother with the whole reason why one needs to learn a language, since the majority of the answer will probably be either you like the language itself or, to a more practical audience, it is a tool for you to further your career.

However there is another big WHY that many people obsess about which is  “why are you not getting better”. Besides the undeniable fact that you are not studying hard enough or not being committed enough, is the underlying reason: you haven’t been learning the right way. 

2 factors which are immensely important when it comes to learning a language is to have the right method/methods and the right mindset. 

 

Method: people tend to refuse to divert from the one path that they had originally drawn out. The idea that a tree which had beared fruit in the previous year will surely do the same in the next has somewhat become an obsolete concept. Years and years of studying, at school mostly involved long periods of time reading textbooks, highlighting and writing out notes. All of these contribute to the ideology that without constant crammings and practices, you won’t be able to achieve mastery. Though flooding yourselves with loads of information will likely ensure that some will be absorbed. And after all, there is nothing wrong with staying in the same course that has been producing results for generations. However that is you not trading wisely your limited resource, time, with an unlimited resource, knowledge. And by doing so, you will undoubtedly lose out in the end. Yet so many of us still cling on to this method to learn just about anything. The trick here is to study simpler not harder. Thus finding the right method/methods is very crucial to your success. 

Just as how your language ability grows over time, your methods of learning should transform itself accordingly. While one method might work wonders for intermediate level like the cramming method, others such as teaching as a way of learning, is actually a more suitable approach for advanced level. In addition to changing your learning method, changing your learning focus can also be beneficial. Focusing on different skills as you reach new heights can also be valuable adjustments. For example, people tend to struggle with listening early on in their training, though investing your time in listening will possibly be futile since your ears still aren’t accustomed to the sound of the language (phonology and syllables awareness). A sentence might as well be a very long drawn-out word (speech segmentation). On the contrary, those who have achieved a certain level of language competence, and are hoping to polish their speaking ability should actually spend more time listening. The reasoning here is that speaking is simply the result of hearing and listening. Similar to how it takes an infant at least a few years from mumbling the first word to being verbally proficient, a language learner should listen/hear more so your brain can be more acclimated with the flow of the language and self-correct it’s mistakes. Further down the line, for the ones who have achieved a complete command of the language, they should strive for the betterment of said language’s cultural and historical knowledge (cultural immersion). 

 

Mindset: affinity bias.You tend to surround yourselves with people who share your views. So not only are you stuck in the same way of studying, you also limit your chances of being exposed to new ideas by staying in your own comfort zone. Being with like-minded people will only solidify and justify your own way of thinking. On the other hand, meeting and sharing your ideas with people that follow different beliefs and methods of studying will likely widen your views on the subject as well as shedding new lights on all the possibilities that you can explore. 

Positivity. people are often discouraged after not being able to obtain a certain language certificate and forgetting the fact that they are, through learning, getting better at the language. And that is the whole point. From my experience, there are two main hurdles any language learner needs to overcome: rudimentary syntax acquisition and intermediate plateau. We will go into more details about these two concepts in the next blog but in short, rudimentary syntax acquisition are all the difficulties ,which often relates to basic patterns of how a language was constructed, that any beginner has to weather through in order to get a sense of the language. The other one is the intermediate plateau, the stage at which once a language learner reaches intermediate level, their speed of growth stagnates for extended periods. In order to get through these obstacles, one needs none but a right mindset. When it comes to mindset, positivity is the key. And the reason why you should stay positive is because your future of achieving mastery is within reach, as long as you persevere. And with the goal line in sight, you should have all the confidence needed to power through and achieve the achievable goal. Hence the only meaningful hurdle here is time itself. 

2 concepts that stand out the most with regard to the topic of time are linear and exponential growths. It is actually kind of hard to understand exponential growth on an intuitive level, since our brains are programmed to think linearly and most of the things we experience in our daily life across time are also linear growth. However, by knowing how they work to our advantage is the deciding factor in keeping a positive mindset. 

In the same manner that a system can be significantly more complex once a new element is introduced, your knowledge can also be enhanced considerably when learning just a new word or a new concept. Take the preposition “pre” for example. Once you know it means “previous to” or “before” and the fact that the majority of English words have latin roots, your understanding of the language will be greatly improved. Now the word “predict” does not simply mean to forecast but if broken down linguistically, it means to previously (pre) speak (dict), or the word “preposition” itself means to go before (pre) the location (position) of an object. So with this, while your vocabulary only grows at a linear pace, your knowledge complexity increases exponentially. The more interconnected your knowledge becomes, the more flexible your usage of the language will get. And this is, to me, what it means to accomplish mastery of a language. 

References:

https://www.readingrockets.org/article/development-phonological-skills

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00374/full

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