What are some effective habits in language learning?
by Claire Jaynes, DoS at Trebinshun House
Many of you will know Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ (since updated to eight!). How can we translate them in a language learning context? Let’s look at each habit and apply it to the context of language learning.
1. Be proactive
As a language learner, this means taking an active step in your language learning journey. It could start with recognising that you need to increase your practice by taking an intensive course, for example. It could also mean taking every opportunity in your current work environment to use English. We have students who visit us every year just to maintain their general level of English. Don’t wait until you have the pressure of speaking at an international conference.
2. Begin with the End in Mind
Envision what kind of English speaker you would like to be in the future and work towards it. Where and how would you like to use your English more effectively? Globalisation has meant an increasing use of English by non-native speakers to the extent to which there are now far more people using English as a second language than as their first language!
3. Put First Things First
Now that you have decided to improve your English and you have a vision of how you might want or need to use it in the future, it’s time to prioritise: what is the most important or urgent goal? One of our students recently changed departments and had two senior managers who were English native speakers. He therefore needed to be able to attend meetings and interact in English. In the classroom, we therefore focussed on increasing specialised vocabulary for his industry, role-playing meetings and analysing common phrases. For his next course, we’ll re-assess his priorities together.
4. Think Win-Win
Whereas the first three habits focus on independence, the fourth starts to look at inter-dependence – how we work with each other. Here we are looking for mutually beneficial agreements and situations. Many of our students are supported by their company to do training and clearly here, there is an advantage to both parties in improving language skills. The company can extend its global reach and the student improves their language skills, building their competence for the future. In addition, in the training room, our students interact with colleagues from all across Europe and each one expands their inter-cultural awareness (as do the teachers!).
5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Listening to and interacting with people with a different cultural and linguistic background generally helps to develop a greater empathy between people. Empathetic listening where you genuinely seek to understand a person creates an atmosphere of positive problem solving. In our group programmes and in our social activities between and after classes, the staff at Trebinshun House, encourage an open atmosphere where thoughts and opinions are shared. In the training sessions themselves, a huge variety of topics are up for discussion in addition to building the language skills (how to interrupt, how to use appropriate phrases to agree and disagree). This is a multi-faceted approach.
This is about combining the strengths of people through positive teamwork. Clearly, through working with your colleagues in the training room, you can practise a wide range of language skills that you can directly apply to your working context: presenting information to a group and receiving relevant feedback (content and language); practising your negotiating skills; role-playing meetings and video-conferencing. By the end of the course, each person will have achieved so much more by participating rather than reading ‘how to give a presentation’ or even watching a demo.
7. Sharpen the Saw
This seventh habit is about continuous improvement, looking at the resources you have to make a long-term difference in your language skills. You’ll have a final feedback session with your trainer where you’ll reflect on your work and bring out your strengths and the areas you need to focus on in the future. As part of our after-service programme, we also provide you with a report which makes recommendations for future learning. There’s also the option to continue working with us via our Distance English programmes.
8. Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.
Taken literally, this means finding your own style in the way you use your second (or third) language. This takes time and is really about integrating your whole experience of language learning. At a deeper level, Covey also identifies some unhelpful habits to avoid: criticism, complaining, comparing and competing. In a learning context, the key ideas are not to compare yourself with others: everyone has their own way and rhythm of learning and not to criticise yourself for making mistakes (they are part of the learning process). There is so much to learn from each other!