Top 5 Habits of the Best Language Learners

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IELTS By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: English » IELTS
Last updated: 12/04/2017
Tags: english as a foreign language, ielts, language learning

Language teachers are very often asked how long it will take to become proficient in a language. Learning a language is like going to the gym: there’s no overnight success. It takes hard work and sustained effort, but over time you’ll definitely start noticing results.

Here are five things you can do every day to boost your chances of becoming a more successful language-learner.

1. Listen to news and podcasts as well as watching movies, TV shows and YouTube videos

Pick something you enjoy learning more about: this can be technology, cooking, sports, nail art — anything really. By exposing yourself to more content in the language you’re trying to learn, you’ll be giving yourself the best possible chance to increase the breadth of your vocabulary and unconsciously assimilate native intonation — that is, the way people speak and communicate in the target language. For instance, say you’re watching YouTube videos on how to bake a cake. You will acquire vocab specific to baking, such as baking implements, ingredients, units of measurement, etc. More importantly, you’ll be hearing the new words being used repeatedly and in a variety of grammatical contexts. A paper by Joe Barcroft indicates that a learner needs, on average, 10 ‘meetings’ with a new lexical item (a new word) before it can be memorised and later used appropriately.

2. Keep an organised diary of new vocabulary

As you are exposed to more and more new vocabulary, it is a good idea to write down all the new vocabulary you come across on a notebook or in a Word file. It’s up to you how you list new entries, but it would be ideal to have at least two different sections: one for just one-word entries (e.g. ladle = large spoon for serving soup) and one for more complex phrases (e.g. “paint the town red” = go out and celebrate).

You can also further qualify a new word or expression with your own tags, for instance, “formal”, “informal” or “academic”. It’s also important to leave some room around an entry so that you can write synonyms, related words and example sentences around that entry. For example, if you heard the expression “a hard nut to crack” in a podcast (describing a person that is difficult to deal with) and read about a “pugnacious interviewer”, you could link the two expressions together and tag the former with “informal” and the latter with “formal”. Other useful tags could be “British”, “American”, “obsolete” and “slang”. Since you can’t possibly learn and remember every single word you put down on the list, tagging will help you memorise words you’re likely to use the most.

It is also extremely important to take note of collocations and colligations. Collocations are words that are very likely to complement other words, such as “fully” and “aware” or “a round of” and “applause”. Colligations are specific grammatical constructions ‘required’ by a given word, like to-infinitives after the verb “want” or “possibility” and that-clauses. Both collocations and colligations are what makes a piece of text or speech sound natural and native.

3. Take a language lesson and review your work

Now that you have a long list of new vocabulary, it’s time to put it to good use. Book a language lesson with a language coach or tutor and try to impress them using words from your list. Chances are your tutor will be using even more new vocabulary related to what you’re discussing, which in turn will make your list much, much longer. Tutors are always incredibly helpful when you’re unsure if you can use a specific word in a given context. In addition to interacting with a language coach, you should also make time to complete your homework and/or write something on a subject you’re familiar with using everything you’ve learnt. This will give you a chance to internalise the new vocabulary and make sure it stays in your memory ready for when you need it.

4. Practise your speaking

As with most things in life, practice makes perfect and speaking a foreign language is certainly no exception. Finding a native or native-like speaker of your target language used to be the trickiest part of practicing a foreign language but it’s not anymore. There are plenty of Facebook groups where you can find a language exchange partner, which is also a great way of making new long-distance friends. Of course, you can always find more structured conversational practice by booking a lesson on Langu, even if it’s not with your regular teacher. And finally, you can always practice in front of a mirror and mimic the intonation you hear in podcasts or movies.

5. Reflect on your progress and think of your five linguistic sins

Take some time to review your lists once a month and appreciate how far you’ve come. Then, as you go through your marked-up homework again, spot at least five types of mistakes you tend to make frequently so the next time you’re revising your work, you know what issues to look out for. Depending on your native language and how much this interferes with your target language, the most common mistakes may include missing or ubiquitous articles, incorrect tenses and the misuse of linking words.

Daunting though it may seem, learning a new language is certainly great fun and an altogether rewarding and worthwhile experience. To learn more tips and tricks on how to take up a new language from scratch or to improve your fluency in a language you are already studying, get in touch with me!


Iacopo Business English Teacher (North London)

About The Author

I'm a recent graduate of Oxford University with a Master's in Linguistics. I teach English and Italian online via heylangu.com, with an emphasis on IELTS and conversational English.




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