Language Learning Tip #12

Problem #6

“I am working hard, but I don’t seem to be making the progress that some others are making.”


You need to keep working hard but you can probably work more efficiently. The first of the 5 signs that students are working hard but not smart.

1) Too much “brute force” in memorizing

We know “brute force” in moving a heavy object is sometimes the quickest way. If you have a heavy box, you bend down, grab it and lift with your legs, right? But what if you have a thousand heavy boxes to move up 5 flights of stairs? What do you do then? It might help to stop and think a bit before you tackle the problem. (Hey! I don’t have time to think! Can’t you see I have a thousand boxes to move up these stairs!)

Usually, your most creative ideas will come to you after you have lugged a few of those boxes up 5 flights of stairs. You soon realize your limitations. But you have resources to draw on. Take inventory of your resources and your strategies. Seriously, sit down with a piece of paper and make notes on what you do to learn Arabic and why you do these things. Then, once you have outlined what you actually do, try to take a brand new look at what you are doing.

  1. Be Creative — You break down the memory problem into pieces and think about the most efficient ways to do learn what you want to learn. You take an inventory of your resources, you experiment, you approach your tasks from new angles. What kinds of things do you remember easily? Bring that type of memory work into play with Arabic.
  2. Research — If you have never done this job before, find out from people who have. Ask successful learners what their days look like. Don’t be afraid to ask them about details like why, how long, what steps, what works for them in specific areas. Also, ask about their weaknesses in memory and learning. This will help you to get a better understanding of their whole approach.
  3. Observe — Especially observe yourself. What are you wasting time with? When does your mind wander? Ask yourself what have you learned quickly and easily and how did that actually happen?
  4. Enjoy — Find something in your work to enjoy. Fatigue and discouragement are kept away by fun activities. Look at your study habits now and ask, “What is one thing I can do to make this more fun?”
  5. Specify — Use the right tools for the specific job. For example, if you want to put something in your long term memory, you cannot use the tool of cramming.

Finally, I would bet that many of you have had or have heard some ideas about language learning and memory that you thought you might try out, but now as you think about it, you realize you have never actually tried them. You have actually kept your old familiar habits because they sort of work for you. They are giving you a measure of success so you are not ready to give them up just yet. This reminds me of the next sign I want to address, which is #4, “Low risk taking.”

(By the way, I know that sign #2 is supposed to come after sign #1. So why am I skipping #’s 2 and 3 and doing sign #4 next? Well, why not? Does doing things out of order bother you? Does it upset your balance? This may be a sign that you are in fact a LOW RISK TAKER!)

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