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What makes a person a damn good language learner?
Why do they seem to do really well at picking up foreign languages while other people don’t?
Here you’ll find 11 unmistakable characteristics that define a damn good language learner and which determine the success or failure of any language learning endeavor.
Just as there are certain characteristics of people who succeed in business and other areas of life, you can spot a pattern when you look at successful language learners as well.
Nobody is born better at languages.
The following characteristics of damn good language learners are simply patterns of attitude and behavior that anyone can learn to do and put into practice.
1. He knows he doesn’t look like a fool when he tries and even if he does he doesn’t care
A damn good 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 damn good language learner doesn’t care what other people think and is determined to give it his best no matter how he may look.
Because of this he improves rapidly, builds more relationships and comes away with plenty of unforgettable cultural experiences.
2. She pays attention to the difference between good resources, bad resources and outright scams
Here’s a general rule of thumb:
If you have to try to make sense of it, it’s probably shit.
Damn good language learners know this and see it as a waste of time having to make sense of something that should be clear and straight to the point.
There are two more general rules of thumb:
1) Old does not equal less quality (some of the best language books I’ve seen were written as far back as the 19th century!).
2) High price does not equal high quality (some of the worst books on the market also happen to be the most expensive).
The damn good language learner also knows better than to hand over her money and trust to people who say things like, “You can be fluent in [insert outrageous nonsense here]” or anything that uses the word “master” in its advertising.
3. He’s able to take a boring thing and make it a totally not boring thing
After the honeymoon period of language learning is over (the beginner stage when everything’s new and your motivation’s high) you’ll hit plateaus that can be dreadfully boring.
This is when you feel like you’re not learning much.
The damn good language learner is always finding creative ways to keep it all fun and interesting.
If you feel bored with language learning then you’re doing it wrong!
4. She gives lack of sociability a kick in the arse and practices no matter what
This is closely related to the previous point but it’s important enough to be a point of its own.
There are days and weeks when the last thing you feel like doing is practicing with people.
Resting is important but long periods of doing nothing or avoiding people are detrimental and a complete waste of time.
A simple 5 minute chat is all it takes to be making progress.
A damn good language learner pushes through ‘not feeling like it’ by reminding herself how important it is to keep going – even when she’s not in the mood for it.
5. He knows that language learning takes a long time – and he’s cool with that
Learning a language properly is a long term thing.
The damn good language learner knows this and doesn’t get himself down or become a quitter if he doesn’t see fast results.
He just takes it one day at a time and enjoys the process without rushing himself.
6. She’s awesome – but she’s on a constant mission to be even more awesome
One vital characteristic of the damn good language learner is her ability to assess her own strengths and weaknesses, and to constructively criticize her own approach to always be improving.
If her learning method isn’t working then she does something about it.
I’ve picked up a lot of good personal strategies over the years which work well for me but I’m always open to listening to and learning from other people for different ideas too.
The damn good language learner welcomes feedback and ideas from others, and she knows which of her skills need the most improvement.
7. He takes a stab at it rather than shrugging his shoulders
Listening is the one skill you can’t bullshit in foreign language learning.
It takes time to be able to understand what people are saying. Serious time.
Every language learner has at some point had to be able to predict what people are saying or what a piece of writing is about from the context and with the limited vocab he knows. You probably won’t ever know everything that’s being said and you’d be surprised at just how capable you are at taking a stab at it most times.
A damn good language learner can put two and two together (and is not afraid to ask for clarification when he can’t).
8. She knows what matters most and doesn’t waste valuable seconds on shit she doesn’t need
The problem with a lot of materials and courses is that a lot of what they teach is irrelevant or unnecessary for most people.
The damn good language learner can discern what she needs and what’s a waste of her precious time.
She focuses on stuff that’s totally relevant and important to her.
If all you care about is improving your speaking skills then spending half a course on literacy skills might be a pointless waste of time. The same thing would be true for a person only interested in reading.
A damn good language learner devotes time to the areas of skill development that matter to her – not what the one-size-fits-all course says she should.
9. He invents ways where there are none to put his language skills to use
The damn good language learner seeks out creative ways to test out the stuff he’s 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 use to practice my Arabic writing skills by writing love letters to an Egyptian girl I almost married.
10. She sees mistakes as small victories rather than big failures
The damn good language learner knows that every mistake and every “failure” is just a stepping stone on the path to success.
So you tried to talk to someone, forgot the words, screwed up the grammar, couldn’t understand what was being said to you and felt like crap.
But guess what… you moved forward, not backward.
That failed attempt at conversing in another language moved you closer and closer toward not failing the next time. You learned more about what you need to focus on to improve and you learned more about yourself.
You gave social anxiety an arse-kicking and actually tried which is more than you can say for most people. Good on you. Pat yourself on the back every time.
Damn good language learners know this and even look forward to making mistakes because they know how important they are.
11. She makes sure that other people will call her out if she tries to be a quitter
Don’t underestimate how important accountability is.
The damn good language learner makes sure that if she decides to be a quitter people are going to notice.
Here’s a quote I shared a while back:
“Once you make a public commitment, there’s no turning back.
Essentially, you don’t want to let yourself or other people down. By committing publicly, you’re far more likely to follow through on your promises.”
As I’ve said before, one of the main reasons I started this blog was so that I could publicly announce that I’m learning a language and let my readers hold me accountable to sticking with it and finishing what I started. It’s made such a huge difference to me.
Damn good language learners know that letting people around them know that they’ve just started something important and plan to see it through is a hugely powerful motivator.
Can you think of any other characteristics of a damn good language learner that you’d add to this list?
This was written by Donovan Nagel.
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Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.
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