Today’s topic is the frequency of learning a foreign language.
I cannot stress it enough. This is another crucial aspect of language learning.
It is very important to learn regularly, to learn every day.
Your brain needs repetition, and it needs it over a longer period of time to acquire language well.
We all tend to think that repeating something a few times today and a few times tomorrow is most likely enough. But this is a college or university mentality.
Let’s prepare for the exam, let’s prepare for the test. To do that I need to read, listen and repeat something a few times and that’s it. Then I just need to go to the exam and remember slowly what I have crammed. It does not have to be quick, smooth and automatic. I just need to recall it somehow and put it on paper.
It is regurgitation. It is short-term regurgitation.
It is not how true knowledge and expertise come about.
It is not how fluent skill is developed.
Fluent skill needs more patience and more reps. It needs time, it needs a variety of contexts and examples.
It is about life style because it is long term. In language, you want to be able to remember something in a couple of weeks’ time and in a couple of months’ time. You want to know it and remember it permanently. It is not about passing an exam and then forgetting, it’s about knowing it, owning it.
It is true of all aspects of language learning, but it is especially true when it comes to speech. You won’t be able to speak fluently (that’s dynamically and with few mistakes and on a variety of subjects or in a variety of real-life situations), if you haven’t repeated a lot, if you haven’t practised something many times, so that it has become your second nature, it comes to you naturally, you do not struggle to remember it, it just jumps at you in your head.
Please ask Lionel Messi if he has to think about handling a football, about dribbling or shooting at the goal. He does that automatically, from practice. He has done it hundreds and thousands of times.
Ask Mike Tyson if he thinks about each punch he throws during a fight! I bet he doesn’t. After all the training, after all the thousands of reps, it is automatic for him. It is his subconscious competence. His brain operates at a different level. His skill, in a way, is now faster than his brain.
It is exactly like that in language. Do you think much about what you are going to say in your native language, what words you will use and how, and what words you will avoid? Of course not !! Because you know it so well it is subconscious for you. You say stuff, and in a way your skill is faster than your brain, it’s subconscious competence and it comes from tons of practice, from a great deal of repeating.
That’s what we want when learning a language. We do not want to pass an exam; we want to learn something for real. The results are fantastic. When you reach this level, it feels great, it feels wonderful. And it is genuine knowledge, not fake, passing superficial cluster of facts in your head that you are going to forget completely next week.
How do we do it, how do we reach this level?
Well, best if you try to do a bit every day. It is very powerful.
First of all, it is easier, because it is just a half an hour or an hour, right?
Second, your brain picks it up really fast if you practice something every day.
Assign 40 to 60 minutes for example, every day. It does not have to be every day, but, say, at least 4, 5 times a week.
You will be amazed at the results, at how solid your knowledge is.
If it’s hard for you, maybe you have a hectic schedule, then assign 15 minutes, but do it every day.
Let’s imagine you learn one dialogue well over a few such sessions, you listen to it 15 times in total. Or, you learn 5 words and expressions (in different contexts) on a daily basis.
That is 35 new words and expressions after a week,
that is 155 after a month and 930 new words and expressions after 6 months !!! That’s right, 930 new language items that you now know really well. Imagine what you can do with that knowledge. How many situations you can use them in!!
Pretty cool, right?
Learning just 15 minutes per day.
Do a bit every day. It is really huge. It is an amazing concept when actually applied.
No excuses!! 15 minutes every day!!
Let’s also mention one related issue, which is the number of repetitions.
No matter what method you use, you will always have to repeat a lot.
Research shows that in order to learn a new word or phrase really well you need to hear it at least 30 times. It is a bit scary, a bit daunting, but believe me, 30 times is not a lot.
In your native tongue there are everyday common words and expressions you have used literally thousands of times, or at least hundreds, and you have never really minded the repetition all that much, have you?
And last point today: apply what you learn. It is very important.
Apply what you learn.
If you don’t, you will eventually forget it and, besides, if you are not using it, why have you learnt it in the first place? This kind of takes us back to another topic which I have already covered in my previous blog about the right order of things you learn and about the importance of learning sequentially, learning the most useful things first, and learning them really well. And then, of course, using them, applying them in everyday life!