The Number One Trick to Learn Any Language: Consistency
Do you want to learn a new language? If you search online “how to learn a language,” you’ll be inundated with a deluge of videos, articles, books, and blog posts filled with strategies, tips, and techniques. But as a beginner, it’s impossible to decide which learning strategies are worthwhile and which ones aren’t. Half of them seem to offer general advice, while the other half showcase clever strategies and techniques to fast-track your learning and become a language superstar in no time at all, with most of them being marketed as tips or strategies that you ‘need’ to use, or else you’ll be left in the dust.
Well, worry no more. I’m here to tell you that the number one most important thing you need to do to be a successful language learner–or a learner of anything–is to just show up. Consistency is key. Certainly, some learning methods and strategies have been proven through research to be more efficient than others, but even the best methods are nothing without consistent study and exposure.
Learning Requires Consistent, Independent Focus
Too often do I encounter students (and parents) who come to class with the expectation that one hour per week of interaction with the target language will suffice to improve their grades or turn them into capable users of that language. After a few months go by, students become discouraged by an absence of noticeable progress and parents feel like they’re wasting their money. And yet when I ask if the student reviews their notes at home or does any of the small amount of homework I assign, they say no.
These next few words are very important, so please read them carefully: No language can be learned in only one hour per week.
When students of any age begin taking lessons to learn a language, they should expect themselves to be able to dedicate at the very least 15 minutes of interaction time with that target language outside of class a few times per week. Notice I wrote “interaction time,” not “study time.” The means of interaction don’t really matter. It could be reviewing lesson notes, watching cartoons, reading a textbook, talking to natives, writing in a diary, making videos, reviewing flashcards, or anything else; just as long as the student is able to interact with the target language in some way.
The students of mine who have made the best progress in their language learning journeys are those who have spent some time between lessons reviewing their notes or interacting with their target language. Those who have made the least amount of progress are those who haven’t spent any time with the language outside of my lessons.
Rest Is an Important Part of the Learning Process
When I mentioned that one has to be consistent, it does not mean that language students have to practice or work on it all the time. In our productivity-oriented world, it is easy to over-exert yourself. Although consistency is key to learning, rest days are equally as important. Daily regimented practice without rest is a recipe for burnout. Rest not only helps us maintain good mental and physical health, but it also is a crucial component of the learning process itself. When we take breaks from studying, our minds have time to digest all that new information. And when we come back to studying after a break, we feel refreshed and reinvigorated. There is a reason why we don’t have school on weekends and why schools let out for the summer and winter holidays.
A Personal Story About the Importance of Consistency and Rest When Learning
I’d like to share a personal account of my experience with consistent study and giving myself regular periods of rest. This isn’t about language learning–instead, it’s about music–but the principles are the exact same.
After I graduated high school, I knew I was going to take a gap year before college to just live and exist without the demands of school. I had decided to get a job in the following fall, so that I could enjoy at least one summer to myself without school on the horizon. Before I started looking for a job, I made practicing drums my “job”, since it was something I got a lot of joy from. For about two months, I practiced drums from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, with weekends off. Before 9 AM, after 5 PM, and on Saturdays and Sundays, I didn’t do anything music-related. Instead, I hung out with friends, watched TV, played video games, spent time with family, and so on. I found that when I would come back to the drum kit on Monday morning after a weekend of rest, not only did I feel refreshed and re-energized, but my technical skills and feeling when playing had improved since the previous Friday. All of that practicing was able to ferment in my mind and body while I took a couple days of rest. The learning process hadn’t stopped because I wasn’t actively engaged with it. Instead, it had continued, even when I was away from my drum kit.
Ever since that summer of intense, consistent practice, I have been complimented on my musical feel and technical skills on drums. It set a very strong foundation for me to build off of and even now, 17 years later, I am still reaping the benefits of that consistent and intense summer of study.
Although my practice schedule was intense–40 hours per week!–what was important was that I was consistent and I took breaks. Those same basic principles apply to learning languages: Consistent study for a set amount of time a few times per week along with regular breaks.
Some Tips on Interacting with Latin Outside of Class
As a Latin tutor at Immerse, I’d like to briefly talk about how students can interact with the language outside of my lessons. As an ancient language, Latin is fairly unique in that the primary method to learn it is to read it, as opposed to modern languages, which have the benefit of native speakers to chat with. However, unlike most other ancient languages, Latin is also unique in that it does have a rather vibrant array of media, with good quality Youtube videos to watch, podcasts to listen to, and an assortment of books, websites, newspapers, and magazines to read. Spoken Latin has also grown in popularity over the past 10 years or so, with more and more people to chat with. This might seem odd since we are taught to believe Latin is a dead language that was only spoken by the Ancient Romans, but actually, there has never been a time in its 2,800 year-old history that Latin was not spoken–although there are no longer any native speakers.
So, interacting with Latin outside of class need not be restricted to reviewing class notes, reading your textbook, or studying grammar and vocabulary. Instead, try checking out different Youtube channels, such as “Scorpio Martianus,” “Satura Lanx,” or my own channel “Quando Alia Agetur.” Or you could check out the vast assortment of easy Latin novels on Amazon, such as “Marcus magulus” by Lance Piantaggini.
At Immerse Languages, I teach Latin with a communicative approach. The primary focus of my lessons is reading, which helps students learn grammar and vocabulary in context. But I also include some writing, listening, and speaking in order to help students acquire a natural feel for Latin and to make it more relatable.
If you would like to learn Latin with me, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Immerse to arrange a free trial lesson.