Seven habits of highly effective language learners

7 habits of highly effective learners

In language learning, no matter where you start from, you can achieve your goal if you believe you can. Looking at what the most successful learners do can be inspirational and will help you to focus on what’s important and what really works.

Learning a language is complex and the time that it will take you to achieve a level that you are happy with varies greatly from one person to the next. It depends on a variety of elements and to speed up the process it is useful to look at the best language learners to understand and try to replicate what they do differently.

In my nearly twenty years’ experience in teaching the beautiful language of Italian, I have observed a great variety of students and their approach to learning a language varies greatly. However, there are certain elements of their behaviour, personality traits and mindset that all effective learners have.

These habits and mindset that I have observed in my students over the years do not depend on age. I have had young, mature and also elderly students. It is true that as age increases it might take more effort to learn. Nevertheless, some senior students who have studied with me, have taught me a thing of two about grit, determination, and imagination.

Habit No 1: highly effective students are fearless

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The oldest person I have ever taught, was Doreen. This student was 84 years old when she started learning Italian in one of my absolute beginner’s classes. She was a music teacher and was in love with the Italian language. Doreen was one of my the most fearless and liberated students.

In each class, even at beginner level we set speaking activities and she would throw herself in each task without overthinking. Doreen would work with the task in hand, have fun in trying without asking herself too many questions. She would try and if she was not understood she would try a different way. This student was not afraid of making a fool of herself, she was not afraid to speak nor to make mistakes.

Speaking can only be learned by speaking, so it is essential for students to start somehow, to have a go. To throw caution to the wind and just have fun.

Habit No 2: highly effective students are proactive
This is an important element for anything one wishes to achieve. In our case, to be proactive means to take ownership of ones’ own learning. The best language students are all independent students. They don’t expect to simply follow the teacher’s direction but have their own strategy for learning. They pick up tips for learning, look for ideas everywhere and develop their own strategy alongside the work they do in class.

Molly joined our classes at elementary level. She never missed a lesson, did her homework and had a very positive attitude in class. There was however, something special about Molly: she found opportunities for learning everywhere. She followed our Instagram and Facebook posts and interacted online commenting on posts and asking questions. She read graded books at home. She even found time to do extra lessons when her courses were paused for a break. When we offer pay as you go conversation classes, she is the first to enrol.

Habit No 3: highly effective students seek exposure.
Highly effective students understand that exposure to the language is one of the most important elements. Hence, they read and listen a great deal more than the average student.

Chris joined our class as a complete beginner. He was taking any opportunity to be active in class, did his homework but this was not enough for him. As soon as he reached a reasonable level, Chris started to listen to podcasts, listening to the radio online and any other online source he could get his hands on. Reading also became an important part of his learning. He started with graded books, which are written based on the level of the student. Then, gradually, his reading material became more and more complex.

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Habit No 4: highly effective students use a variety of tools.
The very best students work online, interact in groups, on pages, use websites, apps etc. to help them develop their vocabulary and language skills.

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Habit No 5: highly effective students are not perfectionists.
Abandon perfectionism, the best learners are not afraid of making mistakes. They know it is part of the process of learning.

Habit No 6: highly effective students are patient.
Highly effective learners know that learning is not a linear process. The secret is to keep going and practise, practise, practise. Learning a language at a good enough level that enables you to speak fluently takes years. My most successful students are patient and have learned to enjoy the process of learning.

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Habit No 7: highly effective students don’t give up.
Last but not least, when the game gets tough, they don’t abandon it, but they keep going, knowing that it will get easier. They trust themselves and the process.

Learning a language is a complex endeavour and sometimes it is difficult to see progress. When we don’t see quick results, it is easy to just give up. Camilla joined Parla Italiano at intermediate level. She was aware that she hadn’t been making much progress lately even if she was studying regularly.

Being a teacher herself, she knew that the process of learning is not linear. Sometimes students hit a plateau and it seems that they are not improving. This can lead to feeling down and unhappy about the whole endeavour. It is at this stage that our emotions can take over and hijack our plans not allowing us to achieve what we wish. Camilla knew that even if she felt down and low this was just a phase. This is why, she trusted the process and simply kept going. Camilla got over a long plateau and managed to change level and started to get satisfaction again about learning Italian.