13 March 2016

The Seven Secrets to Language Learning Success: Part 2


Last week I wrote about the first four secrets to language learning success: spend the time, do what you like to do, learn to notice and words over grammar. Today’s post reveals the last three secrets.


5. Be patient

I see many frustrated language learners who get upset because they forget words. They get upset because they don’t understand. Even after listening many, many times to the same content, certain parts remain difficult to understand…that is absolutely normal. What’s more, you will continue to have times when you find it difficult to say what you want to say.

It’s important to realize that the brain is constantly learning. It will constantly learn, change and renew itself. However, it does so on its own schedule. So just because you’ve studied something doesn’t mean you’re going to learn it. You have to accept that it’s not going to happen overnight. It may take six months for certain things to sink in, but all of a sudden they do. Almost without realizing it (and I’ve had this feeling), I’ll go back to a text that I struggled with months earlier and all of a sudden it’s crystal clear to me.

Similarly, in speaking you have these moments of great triumph when you are in a discussion and you are able to express your ideas just the way you wanted to. Maybe the next day you won’t be so successful, but it’s a very gradual process. It’s not obvious which words or which structures in the language the brain is going to learn first or later, so you just have to be patient and believe that what you’re doing is going to lead to the desired result.

Negative thoughts, like the ones you get when you forgot something, or didn’t understand something, are very damaging to the learning process. I’m not a neuroscientist, but there is so much emotion involved in how the brain learns, that it’s very important not to get negative and to be patient. Realize that it’s a long road, hopefully an enjoyable road, but one that will definitely lead to fluency in that language. Fluency need not mean perfection, so if you don’t expect perfection but you do except to constantly improve, you can afford to be patient.


6. Get the tools

If you’re fixing something up around the house, you need the proper tools. Any job is easier if you have the proper tools. So you need to have some kind of listening device, whether that be an mp3 player, an iPod, smartphone or whatever you prefer.

Also, I think you should buy books. Obviously, we at LingQ feel that we have a wonderful platform for language learning, but I would be surprised if most of our members don’t also buy books. A book will last you a long time. It’s not a big investment, whereas language learning is a major investment of your time. So I would suggest anyone beginning in a language should buy one of these beginner series.

If you’re an English speaker, there is the Teach Yourself Series or the Colloquial Series. There’s Assimil, which is available for French speakers and English speakers. There are a number of these starter books. Get one. I will often buy one or two. While my main interest is listening and reading to the dialogue, I also flip through for some of the explanations, never expecting to remember them but as sort of a gradual refresher that helps me notice.

I’ll also buy a quality audio book rather than rely on LibriVox which is free, but where the quality can be uncertain. I use the LingQ app on my iPad, but not everyone is going to spend the money on an iPad. My point is that I don’t think you can do everything for free. You may end up spending more time by using less than satisfactory tools, and that could cost you a lot of time in the long run. So whatever your budget is, make sure you have the proper tools.


7. Become an independent language learner

It’s maybe the most difficult thing to achieve: taking charge of your own language learning.

I believe that only independent language learners are successful and convert themselves into fluent speakers of another language. There are millions of people who go to language class and most of them don’t achieve success. The only way to truly succeed is to take your learning out of the classroom. Spend time alone with the language, pursuing things of interest, listening and reading, interacting with the language in ways that you like, developing the ability to notice, making sure you have the right tools and being patient. All these things that I’ve described in these two posts are the attributes of an independent learner. You have to become independent.

I hear people all the time saying “Why does this language go this way?”, “Is this right or is that right?”, “What does this mean?”. I consider myself an independent language learner having learned 15 and now working on my 16th language, but I never ask myself those questions. Either I can figure it out by looking words up in an online dictionary, or I let it go and don’t worry about it. I know that eventually this pattern or these words will start to make sense to me.

If I want to look up something to do with grammar, it’s easy enough to do today. Just by Googling I can see verb tables or noun declension tables in any language. I have a little grammar book that I occasionally leaf through in the different languages, but I don’t expect that any teacher has to teach it to me. I can access the language, learn from it and explore it on my own, I don’t need structure. Many people prefer to attend class, however, and that is fine. But even as a classroom learner, make sure you take control of your learning.


Click here to read Part 1!


  1. Michael Bruck
    Posted March 14, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Hi Steve,
    You have to learn how to learn! Experience is very important. When I was 10, my family went to Sweden. Within a short time I spoke Swedish. When I was 25 I went to live in Israel. The learning process was very frustrating and slow. In spite of that I learned hard and could read very well, my mouth was shut hermetically. A year or so went by, but suddenly I spoke freely. I think that the learning process works different for each person.
    Started learning Russian a year ago. Reading articles and understanding broadcasts get’s better by the day, speaking almost nil. There is this feeling that something grows in your head. It’s like a fruit ripening and waiting to be harvested.
    I always tell people, that if I have been able to master Hebrew, I can learn any language.

  2. Andy
    Posted March 16, 2016 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    Hey Steve,

    Just wanted to say that your blog on learning languages is excellent. I like to read your posts now and then and enjoy your wisdom that came from your experience with languages and I can relate it to my experience as well. Just wated to say thank you and keep it up! Have a great day!

  3. Posted March 22, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    This really resonates with me– especially the last point on being independent. It’s so important that learners realize that they’re not in school anymore, and that they can completely control their studies. Owning that control results in so much progress!

  4. Alex
    Posted April 20, 2016 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Good morning, Steve!
    I unconsciously followed these seven principles when I tried to learn Italian. It took me three years to get some fluency in it in certain situations. Now I am wondering if I could use them to learn three languages at the same time (Greel, Sanskrit and Finnish), because I have no time to learn them separately one after another. Do you think I have any chance to succeed? Do you have any experience in applying these principles for learning several languages simultaneously? And how many of them at the same time?

    • Posted April 21, 2016 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Hi Alex. I prefer to focus on one language at a time. But it is a matter of interest. If you are motivated, go for it. The languages are different and so you won’t get too confused that way I am with Russian, Ukrainian, Czech and Polish right now.

  5. Rianne Molly
    Posted May 7, 2016 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting Steve . I really like and love to read what you share. I hope to read more from you Steve. What tools is the easiest way to use? Thank you

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