Learning a language: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Learners – Part 2

Cover of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

In last week’s post, I shared how the first 3 Habits of Highly Effective People from Franklin Covey could be applied to language learning. I’ve now finished the book up to habit # 7, and in this blog post, I’ll cover the last 4 habits.

Part 2 should be even more exciting. In part 1, I covered the habits that are “private victories” – things you need to master within yourself first, before you can be successful in your interaction with others.

And language learning is all about interacting with others. So let’s get started with habit 4-7!

Habit 4: Think win/win

Thinking win/win isn’t just a trick. It’s a mindset. In this mindset, you’ll make sure that every time you deal with someone, it’s a “win” for all parties involved.

How does that apply to language learning?

It’s directly linked to your motivation. If your reason to learn Chinese is because you believe China will take over the world, and you need to make sure you are not left at the roadside, that’s a lose/win mindset. You lose, China wins.

But if you learn Mandarin because you feel you have a lot to offer to China and the Chinese, especially because of the economic boom, then you’ve got the win/win mindset. And notice how much more exciting it is to learn a new language with this frame of mind!

Within your learning process, you can also use win/win to learn from your fellow students. If you’re in a class, your teacher has only that much time for you. Learn from your classmates who understand something faster than you, and explaining to those who don’t grasp a concept you already do. Even when you’re explaining, you can learn a great deal.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Seeking first to understand means that whenever you’re dealing with someone, you should start by trying to genuinely understand where the person comes from. Not just listen in order to be able to answer, but listen in order to feel what he/she feels.

When you’re learning a language, you could take this very literally. Before you start uttering words and writing sentences, get a feel for the language first. Read the text that comes with a lesson and make sure you understand every word, every grammar pattern in it. Listen to the audio many times over.

Feel how it makes sense in the context of the language you’re learning; Not how it could be translated in your mother tongue. Speak / write only after you can really feel the spirit of the text. Doing so, you’ll lose the need to put things in terms of your mother tongue.

Seek to understand the culture of the speakers of the language, too. Technically, your words may make perfect sense, but that doesn’t mean a native speaker is going to understand you. My Norwegian friend was asked to construct an example sentence in Chinese, and, translated in English, he said something like: “I’m going for a stroll in the mountains”. The teacher told him that this is an illogical use of the word “stroll” since if you’re going to the mountains, you should be spending some time getting there. It should be a “walk” or a “hike”.

If you live in a village in Norway, it’s perfectly normal to take a short, perhaps 30-minute walk in the mountains that may be right behind your house. Technically, could be correct in this situation. But in the perception of native speakers, you haven’t understood the difference between “hiking” and “taking a stroll”.

By understanding the frame of reference of the typical Chinese, you’ll be able to tweak the message by explaining first. Or perhaps by coming up with a different example sentence.

Habit 6: Synergize

Whichever way you plan to do it, it takes lots of time to learn a new language. So in conventional thinking, that means you’ll have to take time away from other activities, be it work, holidays or other hobbies.

But what if you can synergize? You can listen to spoken Chinese when you’re in the car or in the MRT. When you go on holiday, go to a country that speaks the language you’re learning, and if you have the option, join a guided tour in that language. Push your boundaries while having fun.

Are you learning Japanese to deal with Japanese business partners? Don’t wait with speaking it until you’re perfect. Use whatever Japanese you can muster the next time you’re calling that person. Don’t worry, they won’t be offended. They’ll really appreciate your effort and it will probably deepen your relationship – a true synergy!

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw

Abraham Lincoln once said:

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax”.

Most of us, and I am no different, spend our time simply “doing the work”. I seldom ask myself whether my learning methods are really the most efficient ones.

What if you’d spend time not just learning, but sharpening your learning methods? Testing out new approaches and measuring whether they make you more effective.

Set aside some time every week to evaluate and improve the way you learn. There’s a great blog post about this over on Hacking Chinese, which is just as relevant whether you’re learning Chinese or another language.

In short

This is what I can see as the key takeaways of the “7 Habits” for language learning. Do you agree? Do you have anything to add? Let share your thoughts with the rest of us in the comments below!

About Guus Goorts

Guus has traveled widely and has lived in The Netherlands, Ghana, Belgium and Singapore. In descending order of fluency, he speaks Dutch, English, Mandarin, German and some rudiments of Spanish, French and Italian. Guus lives in Singapore with his wife and two young children. He settled in Singapore in early 2006 from his native country The Netherlands. After working in a job for corporate training, he founded Yago Languages, Singapore's guide to language learning.

  • http://bilingualmonkeys.com Adam Beck – Bilingual Monkeys

    Guus, I like the “7 Habits” book, too, and I think you’ve done a great job of applying these principles to language learning in these two articles. The idea of “sharpening the saw” is something we all should do regularly, whatever our work. (I just wish I had a little more quiet time to do it!)

    Cheers from Japan,


    • http://yago.sg Guus Goorts

      Thanks Adam! Yes. It’s all about finding time for those activities which are important, not urgent. Not an easy thing to do, especially if you have a couple of “monkeys” in the house!

  • http://www.psychologystudent.net Michael

    I use Pareto’s Law when it comes to learning anything new e.g. cooking. I agree with habit #6. If you want to truly master a language you must make mistakes.

    P.S. I liked how you divided your post into two parts.

    Best Regards,

    fellow Skillshare classmate

    • http://yago.sg/blog Guus

      Thanks for stopping by Michael! Unfortunately I didn’t have much time to dedicate at Skillshare – simply too much going on.
      For dividing the post, I wasn’t thinking of doing that, but then when I got to writing it, there was so much to say that I realized it made sense covering it in installments! Have a good day!