Questions That Effective Language Learners Ask Themselves

Have you ever wanted to learn something so badly that you studied it all the time?

If you are like me, then you have experienced the point at which studying becomes counterproductive.

When learning something new, it is important to take intermittent breaks. This practice allows you to replenish your “focus muscles” and reflect on your progress.

In fact, this past weekend I took a break from my Mandarin studies.

I knew it was time for the break because I had lost both my focus and desire to sit down with textbooks, flashcards, movies, etc. Moreover this period coincided with a three day weekend courtesy of Qing Ming Festival in China (I live in Beijing).

Qing Ming is a time for Chinese to visit the tombs of their ancestors and pay their respects. For me, it was a good time to let my brain relax.

While I relaxed, I noticed how my brain actually had a hard time cooling down. It seemed like I was constantly looking for things- anything I could consume- a book, movie, writing in my diary, anything to distract myself.

(I am very aware of my own preoccupation with being occupied. I find that meditation, exercise, and eating healthy are good ways to keep myself sane.)

But sometimes I still blow up little things, like my language learning hobby, and create new areas of stress.

That’s why I take breaks. And when I take breaks I also ask myself some questions.

I like to reflect and consider these areas of stress within the context of my life.

Once I do this, I can better understand why I am acting in such a way, and then change my behavior if it will help to decrease my stress (or accept it and move on if there is nothing that I can do in that moment).

I wrote down these questions for language learners, but you could also apply them to other subjects/areas in your life.

OK, so here it goes…

1. Why am I interested in learning this language/subject?

The most successful students have a good answer to this question. Such answers normally go deeper than the surface. They are tied to our likes, interests, and backgrounds/childhoods.

In terms of language learning, people who live in a target country have a strong reason to learn. People with family ties to a language also have a strong reason.

Try asking yourself a few questions about why you are learning a particular language.

  1. Do I enjoy the culture?
  2. Do I plan on living/visiting this country in the future?
  3. Do I have familial ties to the language?

2. What are my goals for learning the language?

Tests and courses are popular for learning because they give people clear learning outcomes. They become even more useful when they are tied to industry or academic standards.

People who are studying English, for example, often take the TOEFL or IELTs to enter university or acquire that highly sought after raise. Such reasons are powerful motivators.

These questions should help you judge the efficacy of your language learning goals.

  1. Do I have a professional use for the language?
  2. Will I use the language outside of my job?
  3. Am I interested in the culture that the language resides in?

3. How much time and resources do I have to put towards learning the target language?

People have different amounts of time and resources available at different times of their lives. When you are younger, then you need to consider your studies. As you get older, professional and familial responsibilities take up more of your time.

Tutors, language courses, books, apps are all good resources but they also cost money.

A student, for example, will have much more time than a single mother. A young sales clerk might fit somewhere in between.

Consider these questions to help better understand the limitations of your time and resources.

  1. What are my personal and professional responsibilities?
  2. How much free time do I have and when do I have it?
  3. How much money can I allocate towards learning materials?

Wrap Up

These three questions are a good start to understanding 1) why we are interested in a language (or subject for that matter), 2) what we hope to accomplish, and 3) if we are being realistic or not.

I find that being realistic is perhaps the most important of all the three. If we are not being realistic, then we are apt to either overstretch or underestimate ourselves.

Of course, a large part of this practice is the art of understanding yourself. The more practice you have in learning new things then the easier this will be for you.

Do you use a process similar to this? Is there anything that you agree or disagree with in the article? What language are you learning now?

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