Ten Characteristics of The Good Language Learner

Students Learning Language with Computer Assisted Learning

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Learning a Foreign Language

Anybody tackling a new foreign language for the first time would like being successful. There is so much at stake, because fluency in a second language like English opens so many doors. There are more job opportunities, more potential friends and acquaintances, and the chance to learn about different countries and their cultures.

Unfortunately, not everyone is able to successfully learn a foreign language. Many people start out with good intentions, but then for various reasons give up their study of a second language. Some say the language is too hard, and others complain that they don't have enough time to study learning it. Yes, learning a foreign language can be difficult for a lot of people, and it does take a long time to complete.

On the other hand, many people have mastered foreign languages and become quite fluent in them. How did they do it and what is the secret to their success? Based on my experiences of learning foreign languages and teaching English and Chinese Mandarin, I suggest in this hub ten characteristics of the good language learner.

Characteristics of a Good Language Learner

Characteristics of Good Language Learners

Characteristics of a Good Language Learner

Which is the most important characteristic of a good language learner?

  • Motivation to communicate
  • Constantly practices
  • Willing to make mistakes and learn from mistakes
  • Uninhibited
  • Other
See results without voting

Ten Characteristics of The Good Language Learner

1. Motivation to Communicate

My experience of living in Taiwan for one year during the late 1960s motivated me greatly to continue my study of Chinese Mandarin after I left the Navy. At that time my intentions were to return to Taiwan and renew acquaintances with Chinese and Taiwanese friends. I also wanted to learn more about China and Taiwan. Learning Mandarin well was very important to me so that I could communicate better with my Chinese and Taiwanese friends.

While I was teaching EFL in Taiwan in the 1970s, almost all of my students engaged in import and export trade were extremely motivated to learn. Improving their English meant that my students could interact better with their customers and hence improve their businesses.

2. Constant Practice

If you are going to be good at any skill, you need constant practice. Why can many professional basketball and baseball players perform at a high level? It's because the basketball player is continuously practicing his shooting and ball-handling skills. The baseball player is taking extra batting and fielding practice to become better. Practice makes perfect, and it's the same for learning languages. The more you practice, the more fluent you will become in the second language.

3. Uninhibited

The good language learner is uninhibited. He or she is not afraid to speak and initiate a conversation with a teacher or a stranger. Consequently, the learner will have more opportunities to practice, because most people naturally will not start a conversation with a stranger. Even if a person is apprehensive about starting a conversation, it is to their advantage to practice speaking with other people as much as possible.

4. Willing to Make And Learn From Mistakes

If a language learner is uninhibited, he or she will be willing to make mistakes and learn from mistakes. Just as in learning your native language, you learn a second language by trial and error. When I was living in Taiwan and learning Taiwanese in the 1970s, I once went to an outdoor market to look for papaya. I remember clearly asking one of the fruit vendors whether he had any "bakgui." Upon hearing this, he was somewhat startled and surprised that I was asking for a ghost. It turns out that "gui" in Taiwanese means ghost. I should have said "bakgoe" which is the correct word. This was a learning experience and I never made a mistake again when asking for papaya in Taiwanese.

5. Looks for Patterns in Language

The good language learner picks up a second language inductively and not deductively. I know of very few students who can use the present perfect tense correctly in speech by just memorizing the rule for its construction. The students who can use it fluently are those who observed many examples of its usage in speech and writing. They then attempted through trial and error to make original sentences using the present perfect pattern which they picked up inductively.

6. Is a Good Guesser

If a student can't understand every important word in a spoken or written sentence, he or she will attempt to guess the word from context. When doing this, he will ask his speaking partner to repeat the sentence or rephrase it, so that another educated guess can be made.

7. Will Do Anything to Get The Message Across

When a language learner is attempting to express his ideas, he will spare nothing to get his message across. This can be done by rephrasing the question or answer. Another technique is to use a lot of gestures or body language while speaking.

8. Attend to Meaning, Not Just Grammar

The good language learner realizes that a second language can't be learned by only memorizing grammar rules from a book. Language is primarily intended to communicate meaning and not only be grammatically correct. For this reason. a good learner pays more attention to the meaning he or she is trying to get across rather than producing a sentence which is completely grammatically correct.

9. Monitors His/Her Own Speech And That Of Others

When speaking, a good language learner will monitor the pronunciation, conversation management strategies, and fluency of both his own speech and partner's speech. Besides ensuring that both speakers can understand each other's pronunciation, the good language learner will pay attention to conversation management strategies which include fillers, hesitation techniques, and rephrasing or repetition techniques. Finally, the good language learner will attempt to match the speech and smoothness of his fluency with that of his speaking partner.

10. Has Self-Confidence

All good language learners are self-confident when using all four language skills. This self-confidence has been obtained from the encouragement of others, taking risks, and from scaffolding or the support given by teachers or target language friends.

With self-confidence, motivation, and constant practice, most people can be successful in learning a second language. Acquisition of a foreign language will then be of extreme benefit, because it will open doors to new ideas and acquaintances with new people in new countries and cultures.






Characteristics of the Good Language Learner

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© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn

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Comments 26 comments

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Paul...This hub is a fabulous teaching tool for any foreign language student to reference. I am one who believes in the importance and benefit of knowing a 2nd or even 3rd. language. Growing up, I had the privilege of being exposed to 2 foreign tongues via my grandparents and also studied a 3rd & 4th. in school.

Although I have a grasp of them all, I am far from fluent in any but my own English language. Having said this, it has been apparent to me that in some form or another, many languages can be related to one another.

Of those that I am familiar with, a strong handle on latin is vitally helpful in several others (especially English).

Thank you for this well-organized and presented article.


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 4 years ago from Texas

The first thing that popped into my mind as I read your HUB is that you have just described Jackie Chan! LOL! I have been watching his improvements in English (along with his action movies) for over a decade, and I am always impressed whenever I see him speak English in public because he just gets better and better all the time. Compare his commentary on the 2000 movie, Shanghai Noon (in which he mostly said, "That was very dangerous!") with his Q & A sessions at the " "Bridges : Dialogues Towards A Culture of Peace" by International Peace Foundation" in 2009. The improvement is astounding!

It is his fearlessness, determination and strong desire to learn and to excel that make him able to continue to grow and learn in a new language; even though, he is fast approaching the age of 60! Many language students become discouraged, but following the list of characteristics you present here and the example of good role models like Jackie Chan will really help them to stay focused and continue to grow and learn in a new language.

Voted up and useful! :)


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States

Great information. I'm going to keep all this in mind as I keep on with my own language studies. I think what you say is really very true and I've observed this myself in dealing with many students who are English language learners.

One thing I think I'd add is that you can develop some of these attributes even if they don't come naturally, and that you can capitalize on the ones which do. When we were traveling in Beijing a couple of years ago, I was much less well versed in Mandarin than my husband and he is the one who is much better at just going out there and saying stuff. Yet, I am very good at #6,7, and 8, partly from lots of experience in working with other people who don't speak English well. So sometimes, even with less language knowledge, I was able to functionally survive and get us where we needed to go! I'm going to show these to my two high schoolers, who are actually taking their Mandarin finals as I write this. They will need these attributes when we go to China next year! Voted up and useful!


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Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Fpherj48,

Thank you very much for the nice comments. Yes, a knowledge of Latin is helpful when learning other Indo-European languages. I never regretted taking two years of it when I was in high school.


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Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Suzanne,

Thank you very much for the favorable comments, and yes, you are completely correct about Jackie Chan's improvement in English.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Virginia,

Thank you very much for the favorable comments. Your story about using Mandarin in China is also very interesting. I agree that attributes which you don't have such as not being outgoing can be developed later in life.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 4 years ago from Dubai

You have highlighted very important points to learning a new language. Shedding all inhibitions and speaking is the best way to learn to communicate in a language.It is a bit difficult but not impossible to learn a new language. For me learning to speak in a new language is an actual proof of having learned that language in and out.Voted up.Great hub.


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Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Vellur,

Thank you very much for the very thoughtful comment.


ltlearning profile image

ltlearning 4 years ago from Argentina

Good points, I agree, if you stick to your goals, you don't give up, you practice every day if possible , you will be speaking a new language in a short time


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Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Thank you very much for reading and the nice comment.


yoginijoy profile image

yoginijoy 4 years ago from Mid-Atlantic, USA

Excellent list of traits for the successful language learner. Motivation is the most important one of course! Keep up the great work! and thanks for sharing so many good hubs lately.


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Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Yoginijoy,

Thank you very much for reading and the compliments.


ESLTeachersTales 4 years ago

Great hub. I am tempted to put them on the wall of my classroom. Many of my students have limited learning experiences and so this list would be especially helpful to them.

Reading through the list brought back varies teaching memories. In particular a student employing 7 & 8 to my 6 as she tried to get across to me that her mother suffered a prolapsed uterus. I don't remember the details but I do remember that she was not going to stop until I understood the EVERYTHING came out.

I confess I have a bit of a beef with 9, but more with the way it's phrased, I think, than what you intend. I occasionally have students who get stuck in translation mode--that is, they're perpetually translating in their heads. It creates a absurd delays in conversation. I'd say they're paying too much attention to language instead of simply speaking what they do know (practicing 3, 6, & 8). It could be that 9 is more useful at a higher level, to catch nuances in the second language, than at the beginner level (which is what I teach).


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

ESL Teachers Tales,

Thank you very much for reading and your very insightful comments. I really appreciate them.


jainismus profile image

jainismus 4 years ago from Pune, India

Paul, you have rightly described the characteristics of the good language learner.


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Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

jainismus,

Thanks for reading and your favorable comments. You have to live the language if you ever want to be good.


samet sag 3 years ago

thank you were much! teperim geri kaç hhaaaa :D


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Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

samet sag,

Thanks for commenting on this hub.


NickyHunt profile image

NickyHunt 3 years ago from Kansas City, MO

Thank you for posting this article! You make so many great points. I think half the reason I have been struggling with becoming fluent is the fact that I try to attack it too logically/deductively and I don't just follow my instincts! Thank you so much for inspiring me to approach my language learning from a different angle! I appreciate it so much!!


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Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

NickyHunt,

Thanks for your great comments on this hub. It makes me feel good that I have inspired you with your language learning from a different angle. If you are motivated to learn and find the right approach, I'm confident that you will be a successful language learner.


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Paul, these tips are useful and valuable to all learners of a new language. Practice and being unafraid to keep speaking inspite of making mistakes is very important factors that aid one in learning a language.

Thanks for sharing. Voted up, useful and interesting. Shared here and on fb.


Spongy0llama profile image

Spongy0llama 3 years ago from Canada

Thank you for this. I saw a lot of myself and my own process learning German in this article.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Rajan, Thank you very much for your great comments. Just like in sports or anything you want to do in life, practice is so very important to achieve proficiency. I'm happy you liked this hub, and I appreciate you sharing it here and on Facebook.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

I think it is easier for children to learn another language because they don't have the fear and inhibitions that adults have. Your ten characteristics hit all the fears that hold adult learners back....probably many teenagers as well.

This hub would be great printed in the beginning of language books for students...they could read your characteristics before they start using the book!

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

SpongyOllama,

Thank you very much for commenting on this hub. I'm happy my ten characteristics helped you in learning German.


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Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Mary, I appreciate you reading and commenting on this hub. You're absolutely correct in pointing out that it's a lot easier for kids to learn than adults. You really honor me when you say my characteristics should be at the beginning of language books for students. Thanks for finding this article useful, awesome, and interesting!

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