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Learning Approach

We seem to learn so much easier and faster about something in which we are interested. It is the way we approach the object of our studies that makes it so natural to learn and retain the information. We are positively motivated and consequently have the right approach.

People often marvel at how young children seem to learn prodigiously fast. However, think of the attitude children have. They are curious and want to know things. As long as children are not self-conscious, they are content with making mistakes and equally content to learn from them. Children are not ashamed of their mistakes: they shrug them off, and start again. They repeat what they do wrong until they do it right. They are not afraid of learning. As they grow up, they become aware of expectations others have on them. A mistake becomes something they are more and more afraid of making. In some cases, they prefer not to try or not to know because they do not want to disappoint. We should keep an open and more relaxed attitude when it comes to learning. We should be like children who learn without fear of failure or dislike of repetition. The road to success is not always a straight one. We may have to take some awkward turns to get there.


Probably the most important aspect of our approach to learning is that we must be positive about it. If you are a young student, you may feel that you are forced to learn something in which you are not interested. Among students there is sometimes a certain pride in having a 'grudging' behavior: delay studying until the last minute and brag about not doing homework, just to end up burning the midnight oil later. If you are going back to study as an adult, you may feel uneasy or you may have bad memories of your school days. As adults, the thought of going back to studying and academic jargon may be daunting, especially if previous experiences in the field were not encouraging.

The delaying tactics of some young students and the anxiety of older ones are some examples of negative attitudes; there are many variants. You may feel very confident and tend to procrastinate: you trust your abilities and put off taking a serious, active approach to your studies. Or you may feel very insecure and give yourself negative self-reports like 'I am not made for this.' or 'I have never been good at memorizing.' or even 'The teacher does not like me.' None of this is going to help. You have to take responsibility for your studies: think of why you are learning, what your goals are, and what you can do to achieve those goals. You cannot be too lighthearted, but you cannot be too pessimistic either. Take some time to analyze the situation.

Try to prioritize your goals. What is most important in your studies? What are you studying for? Hopefully, you will be learning something that you like and that will be of use, even if just as a hobby. If you are studying something you do not really like, you can still make the most of it with the right approach. Organize yourself as it most suits you, and give it your best try. Focus on what positive knowledge you can gain by studying: you can always learn something!


Motivation is key: if you like what you are learning or if you have a definite, crucial goal, you are likely to learn well. Motivation may start to waver if you do not achieve your goal as fast as you would like or if you find learning more difficult that you expected. This may happen because you are not learning in an organized way.

A good, realistic schedule will help you keep motivated, giving you many little victories spaced out in time: reward yourself when you keep to the schedule, and do not be indulgent if you do not follow it. If you tend to procrastinate, set yourself a tight and detailed schedule. Do the same if you tend to hurry: pace yourself to make sure you do not just glide over things, but take the time to go in depth. [more ...]

To keep the right approach, you also have to accept some setbacks, delays, and what you could call 'failures.' Think of this as room for improvement, though, not as a reason to give up! You can think of 'failure' in a positive sense if you can see that it is part of the very process of learning: you learn what is good as well as what is not. You can learn from what you do wrong as much as from what you do right. Turn problems into solutions, or at least do not let difficulties stray you away from the good path.


Learning a Foreign Language as an Adult

One recurrent theme concerning language learning is that no one has more talent for it than young children. Their mind is a magic sponge that absorbs all those words and difficult grammar turns that adults cannot comprehend. Many even give up learning a new language later on in life because they think they cannot succeed, or are discouraged by others who think 'it is too late now.' Instead of being put off by ideas of this kind, look on the bright side of things!

Consider that children take a relatively long time to really master a language. Children have years of practice at home before spending years and years practicing in school. They also benefit in various degrees of 'private tutors' that practice with them in many different ways: parents and relatives, friends and teachers, books, radio, television, and so on. While children mutter sounds very early and are able to speak their first words with the intent to communicate with others between 12 and 18 months, more refined communication occurs much later. If you think of it, children are first listeners for a long time and only then they become speakers. When they start to speak, their main activities are repetition and imitation until they become familiar with the rules that govern communication in their society. Young children who start experimenting with language are also corrected and consequently they can reinforce their knowledge of what is effective communication and what is not. They then go on developing their skills and enlarging their knowledge of language throughout life.

As a side note, note that verbalizing (speaking) too early may be counterproductive. Children are sometimes forced to verbalize at an early age, when they are not ready for it, with negative effects on the development of their language skills. Similarly, adults often speak in a foreign language 'too early' in their studies because they are eager to communicate. The problem may be that they are not ready for it yet and find it more difficult to progress later. Good foundations are important in a language. The opposite problem is that some adults never reach verbalization because they are too afraid of making mistakes and avoid speaking for fear of failure.

There are many studies into the way children learn their native language and different theories explain this process. There is evidence that children learn to use language as a tool to express themselves without explicit instruction. This is where the 'magic theme' comes from. Human beings may have the inborn ability to communicate through language. Children demonstrate that they can learn what is meaningful and what is not without or before ever being taught specifically about grammar rules, for instance. This surely does not mean that adults can't learn, however. Adults have certain advantages over children as far as learning almost anything is concerned. If you find it difficult to learn a new language 'because of your age,' concentrate on the positive aspects of your situation.

Mainly, as adults, you are more experienced and can take advantage of your experience in several ways. For example, you have already experience in language learning because you have learned your own language. Think of the process it took to learn your native tongue: you have had many, many years of practice and tuition. Think that to learn a new language, you will also need a fair amount of time and practice. Be patient and persistent.

As adults, you have developed skills and strategies that help you learn. For one thing, your working memory and ability to concentrate are generally larger than that of a child. This can actually cut the time it takes to learn a new language. You can also learn more words and concepts than a child can. Even if you have no detailed knowledge of grammar, you can usually learn it faster than a child can, if you follow the right method. You can use other abilities to your advantage in very simple but effective ways. You can read and write, so read aloud and take notes when you study. You can draw comparisons between languages to help you recognize similarities and differences. You can generalize consciously using a pattern or example to form similar patterns and examples. You can bring together different resources and adapt them to the way you learn best. [more ...]

Finally, let's not forget the importance of practice. If they lack practice, children forget their native language as much as adults forget a new language. Studies on children raised in a country different from that of their origin show that the original language can be completely forgotten. What allows you to learn a language all the way to fluency and what keeps it alive is practice. Practice makes perfect, no matter your age.



Accept the responsibilities that learning brings, and be clear about what you want to achieve with your studies.

Avoid a self-pitying or self-excusing attitude. Adopt one that is proactive without being impatient. Avoid overconfidence as well as self-doubt: find a sensible middle way.

Keep motivated by being organized: a realistic and detailed schedule will help you maintain a good pace.

Be positive: there will be times when you make mistakes, but you can turn this to your advantage. Understand what you did wrong and why, and use your mistakes as guidance to improve.


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