May 31

Learning Languages Formula

Formula for Success

You may be surprised to read that there is such a thing as a success formula for learning languages. I can assure you there is one! Success in language learning is not a random or a haphazard event, many if not most of you I am sure would agree. Whilst there can be some discussion about other possible elements to the formula, I believe there are 3 key elements in learning a language. You need to have a “good score” in each, and ensure that you don’t have zero in any, otherwise….  I am sure you will remember from your maths classes that if in the formula, A x B x C, if A, B or C are zero than the result will be zero! That is the opposite of success!

So what are the 3 elements?


Without the requisite amount of passion driving you towards your destination, you will not be engaged in what you are doing and you will not pay close enough attention to what you need to. As well you may then lack the inner fortitude to overcome the difficulties that may come along the way.

Your passion can come from many things, your love of the people ( or just a person!) , the language itself, the culture from which it springs forth, its music and so on. The critical thing is to ensure that this passion is not dissipated by learning practices that tend to turn you off. On the contrary, how you learn can itself be enough sometimes to turn you on.

That indeed was the case when I first learned Mandarin Chinese many years ago. I  had no real interest in learning Chinese at that stage but I went along to this class just to help me with my teaching. I was, to my surprise, so moved by how the class was taught and what happened to me, that I became really motivated to learn the language. 

Formula for Success in learning languagesAttention

Attention is a another factor, along with passion, that is too often neglected. Our powers of attention are exercised and developed by what we do and don’t do. I am here talking about a lot more than just being attentive. Without being present in what you do, your attention will inevitably be diluted. As is said, we are either moving towards …., or we are moving away from it. There is no such thing as staying stationery.

In virtually every post on this site you will see that I write about the need to become more attentive to all the elements in a language, as well as ourselves. Without becoming more attentive and noticing differences, changes, nuances, connections, etc so much of what we need to learn will escape us.

Just imagine going out on your first date with someone and trying to impress them (or at least not turn them off ! 🙂 ). We look really carefully at what we are doing and what they are doing. Our senses come alive in these situations, not just our intellect. We feel energised and highly focussed in everything that is happening. This is the kind of energy we are looking for in learning.

It is easy enough over our life to get lazy with our attention and only pay superficial attention to something that does not interest us. If we do this too often our attentive powers can become dulled. As this happens we are moving away form being effective an effective language learner and end up relying more on memory, excessive translation and study to support us. These can never replace the learning of an attentive and mindful learner.


Without using the language for what we use language for, namely expressing ourselves, communicating with others, reading and so on, it is very hard to improve. I am not here talking about practice exercises or doing role plays or doing comprehension exercises. I am talking about talking to people, watching movies, reading books and so on. In other words, things you would do in your first language.

If at times you cannot talk to people, it is important to make whatever practice you do as lifelike as possible. It is also important  to put in to it as much reality into as you can. Choose easy books and children’s stories to read, ones you think you would enjoy, or at least are attracted to in some way.  Watch movies you enjoy, possibly watching them till you get tired of it. Sometimes watching a movie 3 times might feel like far too much, but other ones you may watch even 50 times and more without getting tired of it!

Many of you who are learning, for example, English in non-English speaking countries are maybe wondering ….if only I was in UK, US, Australia etc I could learn better. Believe me when I say there are MANY immigrants, tourists and overseas students in these countries who mingle only with people from their own countries. As a result they use English VERY little! 

Wherever you are, I am sure you can find opportunities if you look hard enough and are willing to get yourself out of your comfort zone. That’s what it takes, no matter where you are!

Even in non-English speaking countries ( if it is English you are learning) it is amazing how many people can speak English. The only issue is how to meet up with them. Here your imagination, ingenuity and perseverance are the only impediments to meeting and talking to them.

Also, with the advent of digital technology and its increasing use and penetration into our lives, it can be used to talk to people from all over the world, for no cost at all. Skype and social media allow you to form friendships and networks world wide. Exploit it. Its amazing what people have done with it. 

In a nutshell!

Without sufficient passion, your attention will not be focussed on all that there is to see, and your use of the new language won’t bring all the benefits you seek as you may only be half hearted about what you do.

Without using the language sufficiently, your passion will dry up and you will only only get limited benefits from applying your attention, as what you are paying attention to is far too limited.

Without being attentive enough to all you need to be, your use will result in only limited improvements in your command of  the new language.

If you want to find out what you can do to activate the elements you believe you are low on, book in a free half hour coaching session with me and I will help you sort that out.


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