Learning Strategies from the Best

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Successful Language Learning Strategies


anguage study is also studied. I came across an interesting qualitative study that looked at 67 books about "How I learned a foreign language" and analyzed common strategies and pitfalls. I love these studies because it's like I read 67 books on the subject.

General directions

For beginners, the first important step was generally to have a concrete plan to learn the language and follow the plan regularly. I know first-hand from running this site that commitment is the most difficult issue. This is why we've been looking at mobile games for learning Japanese. Language learning is like putting up a giant brick wall, it's a task that will take some time to complete. But if you think of it as one brick at a time, or one word at a time, then it becomes much more achievable.

"(Good language learners) had tried very hard to find and increase their opportunities to use a foreign language as means of communication....pushing themselves into situations where they had to use a slightly more advanced form of the foreign language to finish the task at hand."

For intermediate learners, the strategies become more involved. Intermediate learners need more intensive study to push ahead. At this point, the language is much more complex. One strategy that doesn't work is reading too analytically - breaking everything down. Intermediate learners need to maximize their exposure to the language.

Strategies for Speaking

For beginners, this meant memorizing sentences and practicing patterns. This is important to start with because you need to be able to practice in order to get better at speaking. You cannot practice if you are not forming any sentences. After you're able to form some sentences, then you can look to increase your vocabulary and form more complex sentences.

chart of overview of strategies from good language learners

Study by Takeuchi summarizes the most successful language learning strategies.

For intermediate learners, a winning strategy was speaking to oneself in the language. Actually, I know this works very well for many people. This is one of the best methods for rewiring your brain to a certain language. This is a great way to learn new words because you are sparking your own curiosity to either guess or look up new words. Something that doesn't work well is making a list of words and trying to memorize them. What you memorize is good for a test, but speaking requires you to recall words on the spot which for most, doesn't fit in well with cramming words into memory.

It is also suggested that speaking and general language learning benefits greatly from guided discovery. This means that you have a tutor that guides you on your learning progress rather than teaches your based on their own agenda. This may be hard to find, but I think this is the direction of online language learning, where people are more free to learn based on their own style.

Strategies for Listening

The focal point for this study and others is deep listening. This means listening intently and really trying to process what is heard. Broad listening as a beginner is helpful but not useful by itself. This is why watching anime and drama, but following subtitles more closely than listening to what is heard, generally does not help one learn the language.

"Learners hae to spend time and energy on pattern-practicing and then putting the knowledge to practical use."

Another focal point is emphasizing fluency over accuracy. Making mistakes when speaking is normal even in your native language. The main factor is if people can understand your intent. Also, studies have shown that the actual words we say is at best half of our communication. Focusing on fluency allows you to present more normal body and facial expressions which are crucial in communication.

Strategies for Reading and Writing

I don't think there was a lot of surprises here. If you want to get good at reading and writing, you need to just do it a lot. The more you do it, the better it gets. Of course, some people have an affinity towards reading/writing. Common winning strategies include reading aloud and learning from good samples of writing.


Takeuchi, Osamu (2003) What we can learn from good foreign langauge learners

Thompson, Sandee (2005) The Good Language Learner

My points

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