There is more to learning a foreign language than just learning the language itself, or even the culture related to the language. When one tries to learn a language, especially outside of the classroom, they learn how to learn. Benny Lewis, known as the Irish Polyglot, has said that the hardest language that he has learned is Spanish, despite the fact that it is closer to English than some of the other languages that he has studied. Benny learned how to learn a language. He found what methods worked for him, because just being in the country wasn’t enough.
I read a lovely article yesterday about 24 polyglots’ tips for learning a language. Some of their tips were reoccurring, which I paid attention to since they have been successful in learning multiple languages. There is one tip that I saw often, and regularly see in YouTube videos and TED talks. I even wrote about this tip in one of my other blog posts: the importance of consistency.
Why is consistency so important that language learners everywhere talk about it?
I have been taking a hiatus from studying Korean to study Polish for the summer. I’ll admit that I haven’t been doing my best to keep up with Korean, only reviewing once in a while. Already, I have forgotten some words, even though I had gone over them fairly often. However, something weird has been happening.
In high school, I made a decision to teach myself Japanese and got very serious about it. Although I never made it to a conversational level, I studied very frequently and reviewed even more for an 8-month period. I didn’t know much Japanese beyond basic conjugation and vocabulary, but what I did know, I knew well. It has been years since I have studied Japanese, so I have forgotten a lot of what I learned, or so I thought. To this day, if I watch anime or hear people speaking Japanese, I will recognize some of the vocabulary that I learned. To my surprise, I can still remember how to produce some basic sentences on my own.
It turns out that my consistency with Japanese paid off so much that when I hear a word in English and try to think of it in Korean, Japanese will come to mind first. Japanese and Korean are two different languages with some similarities, but for some reason, my brain will think in Japanese before it will think in Korean, even though Korean should be more fresh in my mind. That is the power of consistency. If you form a good habit, it can last even years later when you feel like you are out of practice. Though there are days where you feel too unmotivated to study or you feel like certain words aren’t sticking, study anyway, because you may be surprised.