12 Jul 2011

My "secret" to language learning

Thomas Edison once wisely stated that “success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” Empirical evidence seems to suggest that success in language learning is somewhat the same. If you are not one of those few lucky gifted learners you might agree with me that success is 10% gift, 20% motivation and 70% perspiration. While gift does improve the outcome of perspiration (or perhaps the other way around!), motivation has a major role not only in success in language acquisition, but in most achievements. Research findings show that there is a circular cause and effect relationship between success and motivation: the more motivated you are, the more you succeed. Success, in turn, leads to still greater motivation!

My secret to language learning was perspiration, really! I always had to be very systematic about what I was to learn: I diligently listened to audio cassettes (if you are old enough to understand what I mean by cassettes) in English and wrote down the tapescript (it must be said that this was not as fun as listening to songs and writing down the lyrics, but just as effective!). I also wrote word lists and illustrated the meaning of the words with pictures and/or sentences and memorized loads of chunks of language. Yes, memorization!!! I memorized lists of vocabulary, phrasal verbs and even interviews in English: questions and looooong answers. I can’t say I enjoyed the memorization process, but when I succeeded, I felt really proud and challenged myself with further memorization. I wasn’t aware of the role of memorization in foreign language learning back then... I was just a teen, but I was able to enjoy its benefits anyway. Today, if asked for advice, I’d certainly say: be systematic about what you learn.


  1. I'm not one of of those gifted learners either :-( and really benefit from making notes and going over them and adding to them all the time. And I do believe I've improved my language learning ability from it.

  2. Hi, I have to agree, memorisation is the key. I'm living in a foreign country for the first time in over a year... the best part is how much there is to learn, which is also the worst part! I

    I have a notebook full of chunks that I spend time memorising, to do this I often make a picture in my head to which I connect the phrase (my imagination is good but my drawing skills are pitiful). One of the most gratifying moments is when you hear a phrase you've learned or you find the right context in which to say it.


  3. Hi Dale,

    Many thanks for your comment. I feel honoured to have somehow inspired you to write a great blogpost on your secrets to language learning: http://languagemoments.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/a-month-of-learning/


  4. Hi David, thanks a lot for stopping by and leaving a comment. Really appreciated! ;))))

  5. Wow, you were a diligent student indeed! The transcription of a long piece of listening is not a quick activity and can be very frustrating but the feeling of achievement at the end and the amount of thought that goes into it means the benefits are definitely worth the struggle. I think I might try that soon with some Spanish. Intensive listening, just like extensive listening, has its benefits.

    Thanks for sharing, Marcia.

  6. Hi Gordon,

    I'll tell you a secret: writing the transcription was part of the method of the language school I went to, so I had to do it anyway! You can imagine what a "strict" school it was! And later we had to memorize it all and "recite" it to the teacher. Well, she "disguised" it as a ball game": Throw the ball, catch the ball, stop (Ss passed the ball around. Then St A ask St B (what x....) I used to get so nervous I'd see two teachers rather than one! But I've survived and even become a language teacher!

    Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your Spanish! ;)



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Chiew Pang on RSCON3 2011