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7 Essential Characteristics Of A Good, Strategic Language Learner
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Arabic Lesson

What makes a person a good, strategic language learner?

Why do some people do really well at learning foreign languages while other people don’t? I’m going to share 7 essential characteristics of a good, strategic language learner with you that I believe determine the success or failure of any language learning endeavor.

**I’ve adapted and modified these attributes from J. Rubin 1975, ‘What The Good Language Learner Can Teach Us’, TESOL Quarterly.


1. They aren’t afraid to let their guard down.

A good, strategic language learner first of all isn’t afraid to take risks and look stupid. One of the biggest challenges for people wanting to learn another language is the fear of looking or sounding ridiculous when making mistakes or having poor pronunciation. The good, strategic language learner doesn’t care what other people think and is determined to give it their best no matter how dumb they feel.


2. They constantly practice, even when they don’t feel like it.

There are days and weeks when the last thing I feel like doing is going over vocabulary or practicing my foreign language skills. A rest is good, but long periods of doing nothing is detrimental. I push myself to study by reminding myself of my goals or finding something that inspires me to continue.

To give you an example, when I studied French and went through periods of not feeling like doing any study, I looked at tourist websites for France and let the travel bug drive up my inspiration to learn the language. Even watching a movie like Bourne Identity was enough to make me want to hit the books.


3. They are able to overcome boredom.

This is closely related to the previous point but it’s important enough to be a point of its own. After the honeymoon period of language learning is over (the beginner stage when everything’s exciting and new, and motivation is high), you’ll hit a plateau around your intermediate level that can be extremely boring. This is when you feel like you’re not learning much.

A good, strategic language learner can find creative ways to keep it interesting.


4. They are good self-assessors.

One of the key attributes of any good learner is their ability to assess their own strengths and weaknesses, and to constructively criticize their own approach.

I consider myself to be a very good language learner with my own personal methods that I’ve picked up over the years but I’m always reading and listening to other people – even less experienced language learners – for different ideas.

You also need to pay close attention to where your weaknesses are (e.g. good speaker, terrible at reading) and adjust your approach accordingly.


5. They are good guessers.

Every experienced language learner has had to be able to guess what people are saying or what a piece of writing is about from the context. If you know more than 60-70% of the vocabulary used then you’ve got a pretty good chance of taking a stab at it.

A good, strategic language learner isn’t afraid to make a guess but also isn’t careless enough to nod and pretend to understand (we’re all guilty here don’t worry).


6. They spend the right amount of time working on all skill areas – speaking, listening, reading and writing.

I spoke Egyptian Arabic before I could read well. Part of the problem was that another dialect (MSA) is used for writing and it’s significantly different to the colloquial dialects. However, I could have and should have focused on both areas.

A good, strategic language learner makes sure to devote time to all areas of skill development.


7. They find creative ways to test out new knowledge.

Finally, a good, strategic language learner seeks out creative and fun ways to test out the stuff he or she has learned.

For example, learn all the language you need to get a haircut then go out and get a haircut straight away so you can use it all while it’s fresh in your memory.

If you’re not in a foreign country and can’t do this sort of thing, find a Skype language exchange partner, teach yourself all the vocab and expressions you need to discuss a particular topic and then chat to them straight away and use it.

Practice your reading and writing creatively by writing a story or reading some interesting articles online. I practiced my Arabic writing skills by writing love letters to an Egyptian girl I was keen on at the time.

Can you think of any other characteristics of a good, strategic language learner?

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One Response to “7 Essential Characteristics Of A Good, Strategic Language Learner”

  1. Another great post!!

    I completely agree with you. I think it's always important to give something a try and when studying (even when at a relatively low level) a varied approach will always keep you 1) busy, 2) immersed and 3) interested in the language that you are studying.

    Like you mentioned in a previous post, when I studied Japanese it took about 3 years for my ears to adjust to the sounds of the language to be able to understand it without thinking and I think it's important for any/all language learners to ensure they give themselves ample exposure to their target language as early as possible.

    I have just undertaken the task of learning (or brushing up, then significantly improving to be more accurate) Italian. I'm using a combination of books and courses, along with writing for my own purposes (e.g. a diary, a day plan, a shopping list) and listening to radio, tv etc.

    Immersion doesn't just have to be in the country itself (although that's obviously ideal), you just have to be creative!

    By Nick on Feb 14, 2012 | Reply

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About The Author:

I’m an Applied Linguistics graduate, ESL teacher and translator with years of travel and language learning experience. I have a huge passion for language learning and for helping to raise awareness of endangered minority languages around the world.

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