The Successful Student's Mindset
While choosing a good teacher is an obvious advice, the choice of the teacher is only the first step. Some of my students progress much faster than others, with the same teacher (me) and, seemingly, the same investment - for example, one 60-minutes lesson per week. Some students will rise from complete beginner into fluency in a matter of months while others will have a much slower progress. So how do you accelerate your progress?
Mostly, it is a matter of mindset, a specific attitude.
1) Commitment is everything.
Language study is a long run. You will need to practice very regularly, even when motivation gets low - spoiler: it will. The more committed your learning is, the better your results.
2) Practice regularly - what does it mean?
Even if your lesson is only once a week, you should find time to practice as often as possible, at best everyday. You don’t have to book long study sessions in your calendar. 10 minutes learning your vocabulary everyday during lunch break will do more for you than booking an entire afternoon per month to binge study your language.
If you skip some days, don’t feel bad, but resume your everyday practice as soon as possible. If it is impossible for you to study everyday, do it as often as possible.
I typically advise my Sunday students to do their homework on Wednesday and read through the vocabulary of their previous lesson everyday.
Why does it matter?
If you learn your vocabulary everyday, you will come to the lesson knowing the complete content of the previous lesson already. This way, you will avoid wasting some time during the lesson to learn the same things again. If you don’t learn the content of the lesson at all, you will remember about 20% a week later. This means that 80% of your knowledge (and hence, of your precious time with the teacher) will be wasted every week. A student who learns everyday will progress 5 times faster than a student who doesn’t practice in between the lessons. That’s a good outcome for just 10 minutes per day.
3) Motivation: Love it or leave it.
On some days, you won’t feel like pursuing your language study. You will be tired or busy - probably both. It is easy to forget why you wanted to learn the language and let your language study slowly drift away.
To avoid this, take this piece of advice from Judith Meyer: make a list of reasons why you want to learn this language and/or of all the awesome things you will be able to do when you will be fluent. Write this list on a beautiful piece of paper and pin it to the wall where you can see it everyday. Feel that your motivation is dropping a bit? Just read the list again.
Even better: download this awesome list template and fill it with your very own reasons to learn French (find inspiration in this article), print it and pin it next to your desk.
4) Be proactive
You need to have a rough idea of what you want to learn and why. Your teacher’s job is to change this idea into a concrete study plan and offer you the specific material that you need. Without a general idea of what you really need, you might end up studying things which are completely irrelevant to you. Take ownership of your study and make sure to give your teacher the input they need to make the most of your limited study time. Don’t let them teach your irrelevant things.
If you would come to me saying “I want to learn French”, I could spend two years with you 24/7 and not be done teaching you all I know about French at the end. So, if you’re going to spend only 60 minutes per week with me, be sure to ask for something a bit more specific. For example, you might want to study French because you go to France on holidays, or on business trips. You might want or need to take an exam (such as the DELF/DALF), you might have a specific interest which prompts you to learn French, such as fashion or food, or maybe your partner is French and you’d like to communicate with their family. Make sure that we both know why you so learn, so I can know what to teach.
5) Make a list of questions
You might have noticed, I’m fond of making lists. Lists are the simplest way to be sure not to forget things. As a committed student, while you study everyday, you will have questions for your teacher. You will read an article in French and be like “damned! Why do we use passé composé here, why not imparfait?” or “Really? The plural of “gaz” is “gaz” - is there a grammar rule for this?”. Write all those down, and ask your teacher during your next lesson. This is the best possible use of your lesson time, because the fact that those questions have popped into your head is a sign that learning these things is relevant for you.
6) Ask, ask, ask. Never leave a lesson with an open question.
There are no stupid questions. You literally pay the teacher to answer your questions specifically. It’s just you and the teacher (at least in a one to one lesson), so no one can make fun of you - or if your teacher makes fun of you, you should really find another one.
It’s the best possible environment to ask everything that you always wanted to know about your target language and its culture. Just ask every question you can think of. If the lesson time is over and you have to stop, just write this question on your list for next time.
7) Grab every opportunity to learn the language.
Do not rely exclusively on your weekly lessons. Wander through the internet in search of anything which could teach you something more about your target language. Watch a movie. Listen to music. Go to a French restaurant and place your order in French.
Discover the best French Youtube channels - a new one is added every week.
Need more inspiration? Check those 12 things you can do to learn a language for free.
A good teacher should encourage you to learn in all circumstances and make you feel empowered in your study - and celebrate all your achievements.
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