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  • Key principles in language learning

    Posted on December 15th, 2008 Mairo Vergara 1 comment

    language-keyOn a previous post I talked about how there isn’t a single method for language learning and how you have to find out your own method. Although the method varies depending on you, some key principles for language learning are universal. I can tell you these principles, or you can find them by yourself just by studying and trying different languages and methods.

    In this text I’m going to talk about some of the principles, but it’s very important that you study, notice, and understand these principles by yourself. Once you have understood how language learning works, you certainly will succeed in your studies. Also notice that there are many principles, so I’m going to talk just about some of them (actually three).

    Exposure is key!

    Principle number one is really simple: the more time you spend with the language, the more time you learn. Exposure is key. However, you need good exposure. Classrooms often offers bad exposure, because you have to read texts made for language learners and listen to your classmates bad accent and intonation. The unique good exposure is probably the teacher (although sometimes even the teacher has a bad accent). Good exposure means to listen to real content, read real texts, books, and magazines. Speaking can also be a good way of expose yourself to the language, but only if you can speak to a native or someone with very good skills. Remember you learn more when listening to the other guy than when speaking to him. Listen to music, play games, watch movies, chat on MSN, etc. All these things counts as exposure. Again, the more time you spend with the language the more you learn.

    Input over output!

    Input means listening and reading. Output means speaking and writing. Keep in mind that Input is much more important than Output. Don’t let teachers bother you with the “you need to practice what you’ve learned”. Listening and reading are real practice! I’ll give an example: I started writing on Lang-8, because I wanted to improve my writing skills (and I’m still doing it). After a while I notice my mistakes and writing patterns were always the same. I could polish my writing and correct some errors, but it was just a little improvement on my writing skills. So how I can really improve? Reading, my friend! I have to read more, to read books, to read well written English. If I read a lot, and after that write again, I will probably come up with something new, with new words and expressions. It’s the same for your native language. If you want to be good at writing, or want to became a writer, you have to read like a crazy. You have to devour books! Speaking works in the exactly same way. You can practice and improve your speaking skills. But in order to go further, to talk and impress other with your super cool accent, you have to listen a lot. You need thousands of hours of listening. You need to put that language inside your head so that you listen to the sounds and the rhythm of the language even when you’re not listening. You need to know by heart the books, the phrases and patterns. That’s input! It’s like a big box inside our head. If you need words or phrases, you go to the the box and get it. But you’re not going to get it if the box is empty! So fill up the box! Once you have enough input, output will just be a consequence, it will come naturally.

    Regularity: keep going, just keep going!

    Don’t study seven hours on weekends. Don’t go to the super intensive two weeks English course for only $3000. Instead, study one hour everyday. Regularity is what will make you succeed. You can go hardcore and study 8 hours everyday, but assure to to it every fricking day! And don’t compare yourself with others. Just do it every day and keep going! Katz said “I’m going to act Japanese and I’m going to keep acting Japanese until it’s not acting any more“.In other words; you do it until you don’t feel your actually doing it anymore. Until it becomes part of you. But do it right, OK? Combine good exposure, tons of input, a little bit (just a bit) of output, and keep going, keep doing it every day. If you do it, you will succeed.