Why language schools are often ineffective? I did about a one-month German language course and found that I was gaining very little out of it. I had different teachers and I noticed that a good teacher can make a huge difference by creating a learning environment that involves students and does not bore them. When I started to read literature about the factors that influence language learning, but also “learning” in general, I found out that the approach that some of my teachers were following was totally wrong. I summarize what I think are crucial factors for efficient language learning and will then explain each one more in detail:

  1. Motivation
  2. Regular practice
  3. Emotional involvement
  4. Playfulness and willingness to make mistakes
  5. Humble approach – The basic first
  6. Grammar is secondary to practice, the theory is secondary to practice.

1. Motivation: Turns out that the more you are motivated toward learning the faster and better you will learn. This seems obvious but the crucial point is that to be motivated you have actually to believe that you can learn the language and that you can learn it pretty quickly.

2. Regular practice: It is better to practice the language every day 20-30 minutes than 2 hours 2 times a week. Regular practice is very much linked to other factors such as time management and motivation.

3. Emotional involvement: Our memory can retain much better information that is associated with strong emotions and more than one sense. For example, associating the sound of a word with images and smell could be more effective than just reading the word on a dictionary. One important factor is that a person’s memory may have a preference for one of the senses. Therefore, discovering what is your favorite sense for memory retention can be highly useful to decide how to learn languages.

4. Playfulness and willingness to make mistakes: When we are bored we do not learn. When we are having fun we are more receptive. This is one of the reasons why boring language school is usually very ineffective. I think that is also important to not worry about sounding a bit ridiculous during the first months of speaking a foreign language. Willingness to make mistakes allows you to improve by getting feedback on what are you doing wrong and how to fix it. A playful approach to language learning can be highly rewarding because allows you to say anything and without having to worry too much about it.

5. Humble approach – Starting from the basic: We learn better when we interiorize very well some small knowledge chunks or principles before adding new ones. Therefore, a beginner that starts with a humble approach, and recognizes that is better to learn very good very few things at the beginning before learning a lot of advanced rules will actually learn faster. In other words, I think that the secret of learning fast is actually to learn “slowly” (gradually).

6. Grammar is secondary to practice: Generally speaking, I believe that second language acquisition is more successful when it imitates children’s language acquisition. Children do not learn grammar first and then how to speak, they learn how to speak by a trial and error process which involves constant engagement with their environment. Children do not learn reading by starting to read literature. They learn to read by starting to read simple single words, and then simple single sentences. Grammar should be taught very sparingly and sparingly used to check the sentences that one has already pronounced instead than the opposite. if you found this post interesting you may also find interesting my infographic on three essential ingredients to learn a language.

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  2. How an economist and a martial art champion are helping me to learn a language
  3. Audio or text? The dilemma of the beginner language learner
  4. The difference between skills and knowledge and why this matters in language learning.
  5. Environmental support for language learning: comparing children and adults

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