13 – Good Language Learners

13 – Good Language Learners

Some learners learn better or faster than others. Some learners have confidence. Some lack confidence. Some learners show strong motivation to learn, and some lack that drive. Some learners succeed, and other learners fail.

But these differences can change. A failure can become a success. Learners can get better at learning. Language learning IQ can change. And we have a key to grow our language learning IQ. We call it a “growth mindset” (Dweck, 2007).

With a growth mindset, learners remember that they can change their abilities. Language learning ability is not fixed. With a growth mindset, we see mistakes and failures in a positive way. Mistakes and failures don’t show us that we are bad language learners. They show us where we need to grow.

In 1982, Rubin and Thompson wrote a book called “How to Be a More Successful Language Learner.” They suggested many qualities of successful language learners. The basic idea is this. Learners can use these qualities to become more successful and more independent. Other scholars developed the topic of learner strategies and independence. (See Oxford, 1990; Wenden, 1991, and Wenden & Rubin, 1987).

Teachers can teach these qualities to students. And using a growth mindset, students can work to improve their language learning strategies. When learners make mistakes, they can remember what good language learners do, and they can try to improve. In what follows, we will look at some basic strategies. These ideas may help students become better language learners.

Manage your learning. Plan when and where you study. Plan how much time you will study. ┬áSet goals; for example, “Read 5,000 words every week,” or “Read for 10 minutes every day.” Keep organized. Keep a calendar. Keep documents in files so you can find information quickly.

Learn from mistakes and failures. Remember that mistakes are your teachers that show you where you need to grow. Feel free to make guesses, and then learn from your mistakes and successes. This is called trial and error learning, and it works. Relax because you need to make mistakes to learn.

Communicate outside of class. Use the language outside of class. Talk to your classmates in your new language. Talk to your family and friends. Watch TV and movies. Listen to music. Make friends who use your new language. Do activities likes sports, shopping, or eating with them.

Use memory tricks. When learning words, use memory tricks called mnemonics. For example, an English speaker is learning the Japanese word NEKO for cat. He says, “There is a NEKO on my neck.” Play with sounds to help you remember. The word “winsome” means appealing. Make this sentence will help you remember it: “Mike’s “winsome” smile helped him “win” friends. These memory tricks can help. But to remember new words and phrases, learners also need to practice retrieval, spacing, and interleaving.

Learn chunks and phrases. Learn common proverbs like “Better late than never.” “Practice makes perfect.” “If you snooze, you lose.” Learn common chunks like these greetings: “Long time, no see.” ‘It’s been a while.” “How have you been?” “Good to see you.” “What’s new?”

Cover your weaknesses. Control conversations by saying, “Could you repeat that?” Could you repeat that more slowly please?” “Could you repeat that more slowly and simply please?” “I’m sorry. More slowly and simply please.” In conversation, when you don’t know a word you want to say, don’t freeze. Use another word. Explain the meaning of the word you want to say. Later, learn the word that you needed.

Be calm and relax. Learn to control your emotions and feelings. If you feel nervous, listen to music, laugh, or practice breathing for one minute. Speak positively to yourself. “I can do this. I can learn from my mistakes. I can get better.” Write in your diary about your language learning experiences and think about ways to improve.

These ideas may help learners get better at language learning. But learners may find it difficult to take action on this advice. And some may find these ideas unclear or too abstract. Nevertheless, we all need a growth mindset. Mistakes show us where we can grow. Language learning IQ is not fixed. We can get better at language learning, and these strategies may help us improve.


Dr. Joseph Poulshock

Dr. Joseph Poulshock works as Professor of English Linguistics in the Faculty of International Communication at Senshu University.