Skills 360 – Habits of Highly Effective Language Learners (2)

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Welcome back to the Skills 360 as we continue our look at the habits of highly effective English learners.

Yes, I said habits, because good habits are the foundation of a lot of success and achievement. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about getting fit or being productive or learning a new skill. Good habits will serve you well. Why else do you think that Stephen Covey has sold over 25 million copies of his book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?”

So, when it comes to learning a language, what are the habits that will get you where you want to go? Well, last time I talked about the importance of being regular, reviewing what you learn, setting goals, and taking risks. Today I want to start with an idea that a lot of people are happy to hear: read and listen to things you’re actually interested in.

Seriously. Learning doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, a surefire way to lose motivation is to study dull textbooks full of information that you couldn’t care less about. And if you lose motivation, then you’ll have a hard time being regular, and you’ll never reach your goals. So why not focus on topics that arouse your interest? I mean, I assume that’s why you’re listening to this podcast about Business English: because it matters to you. And that’s a great start. So take advantage of the wealth of materials and media available to you, especially online. If what you’re studying is interesting, then you’ll look forward to it, and being regular won’t be hard at all.

Now, wouldn’t it be great if we could learn a second language as easily as we learn our first? I mean, when we’re young, our brains are sponges that can absorb new information without even trying. But then we grow up and the old memory unit needs a bit of help. And that’s why you should get in the habit of writing things down, like new words, new expressions, interesting facts, or key points about how the language works.

Of course, writing these things down will give you something to review, which I’ve already suggested doing. But it’s more than that. The very act of writing something down will help you process and remember it. It’s true! Because when you write it, you are using the part of the brain that makes language. And that means you’ve engaged both the understanding and the creating parts of your brain. The result? It sticks in your memory.

But I assume that you’re learning English more than just to understand it. I’m guessing that you want to actually use it, which takes practice. And that’s why another important habit is finding a balance between input and output. Reading and listening don’t necessarily translate directly into writing and speaking ability. You need to practice producing the language. But if all you do is speak and you never take the time to read and listen, then you’ll have the opposite problem. So look for balance.

Now, is all input and output equal? I mean, does it matter what you read and listen to and how you practice? You bet it does. And good language learners know that the best source of learning is native speakers. Why do I say that? Well, here’s an experience I’m sure you’ve had: in school you learned some useful English expressions for different situations, like greeting people or ordering in a restaurant. Then you actually experience these situations and discover that people are saying something completely different. Talk about frustrating.

So, if you want to learn the real language of conversation, listen to native speakers. Then take the next step and imitate what you hear. That means trying to pronounce words in the same way, using the same rhythm and intonation, and copying natural words and expressions.

You can do this kind of practice alone, with podcasts, TV or movies, but language is meant to be used between people. And this brings me to the last habit I want to mention: effective language learners initiate practice opportunities. I know it takes confidence to strike up a conversation when you’re still learning the language. But what are you afraid of? Having a hard time communicating? Making mistakes? That’s just part of the process. Every single person who has become fluent in a second language went through that. So relax and have fun with it.

All right, let’s run through these habits one more time. First off, listen to and read things you’re actually interested in. And when you do, be sure to write things down, especially vocabulary. But don’t just read and listen. You need to balance all the input with output, or practice. And when you do that, try imitating native speakers that you hear. Finally, go out and initiate practice opportunities.

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.

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