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The three ingredients for successful language learning

15 Mar 2011
Some recipes have many ingredients. Language learning only has three! Photo by Anthony Georgeff

What's the difference between a successful language learner and an unsuccessful language learner?

Is it talent with languages? Nope! Last week I wrote that talent isn't necessary to learn a language. So, what then?

The three ingredients for successful language learning are time, motivation and an effective method.

With these three things, anyone can learn any language successfully.

Read on for more information!


By "time" I mean two things:

  • You need to spend time with the language regularly. Even if you only spend 20 minutes a day, practicing a little each and every day is better than spending a lot of time only once a week.
  • You need perseverance! Humans are designed to learn languages. The only way to fail is to give up. If you stick with it, you will learn the language - no doubt about it!

I've written previously that language learning is a lot like athletic training. You could say the same two things about exercise and getting in shape: exercising 20 minutes a day is better than working out 4 hours every Saturday and you need to stick with your exercise routine to see results!


Because you need to convince yourself to do it regularly and not give up, you need strong motivation!

External motivation, like getting a good grade or finding a new job, can get you started - but it probably won't be enough to keep you going.

For that reason, it's important to make the task itself enjoyable. You don't need to suffer to make progress! We are naturally motivated to do things we like.

As I have written before, I've been learning Polish mostly from reading and listening to books. I love books, even those in my native language! Once I get involved in a story, I am naturally compelled to find out what happens next. I have no problem getting myself to read daily.

Other types of deeper motivation can also help: planning a trip to the country where the language is spoken, meeting friends who are native speakers or getting in touch with your roots.

Besides just helping you persevere, the latest research on learning shows that being highly engaged and motivated actually improves the natural learning process.

An Effective Method

Any language learning method will work ... eventually.

But some methods are more effective than others. When you use a less effective method, you'll end up spending more time working towards your goals. So, what makes a method more effective?

The human brain is designed to learn languages. You activate this brain function by using the language - that is by sending and receiving meaningful messages in that language.

Many language learning methods focus too much on learning about the language (i.e. studying grammar rules), rather than actually using it. Or, they require you to spend time with language that isn't really meaningful. These are common problems with the language programs in many schools.

The more time spent actually using the language, the more effective the method is.

There is an almost endless number of ways to use a language, including:

  • Reading books, magazines, newspapers, or articles on the Internet
  • Speaking with people over Skype or in person
  • Playing video games in the language
  • Watching films, TV shows or even videos on YouTube
  • Writing e-mails or chatting online
  • Listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks

How your chosen method uses the language isn't really important, as long as you're using the language! You can study by yourself or in a class.

Unsurprisingly, so long as your method is reasonably effective, the most important thing is to simply choose a method you enjoy!

Anonymous's picture

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Anonymous's picture

[...] to an advanced level in a year, if they put enough time into it. Assuming, of course, you have the other two ingredients [...]

Anonymous's picture

I am really impressed by the method and ingredients for successful language learning. It is an irrefutable fact that we need time, motivation and an effective method to learn a language. Learning a language requires love, devotion and high level of motivation.

Posted by: learn spanish (not verified) | Saturday, July 2, 2011 - 14:14
Anonymous's picture

To learn any language, if you have got love, dedication and devotion, it won't be difficult master the language. However, motivation and effective methods facilitate the learning process faster and surely. I appreciate your nice work.

Anonymous's picture

[...] Remember, there isn't only ONE right method; it’s about finding the method that works for YOU! [...]

Anonymous's picture

To those who are looking for good and easy books in english, for practice. I want to reccemend you "coolins classics" collection which is available in Empik stores. There are many of easy and short books in very low price (11~zł). For instance I've just finished "Call of the Wild" of Jack London.

Posted by: Jackiew (not verified) | Monday, September 5, 2011 - 08:34
David Snopek's picture

Thanks for posting your suggestion! I'm sure someone will find it helpful. :-) Best regards, David.

Posted by: David Snopek | Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 06:47
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[...] w części teoretycznej, mówiliśmy o znaczeniu czasu i regularność w nauce języka. Ćwiczenie języka codziennie przez 15 minut (około 2 godziny w tygodniu) jest [...]

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