You may have met someone who has been studying a language for ten years but still can't string a sentence together. Maybe you've been studying Mandarin for two years but haven't made a dent when it comes to progress? Now you see people who are fluent and a feeling of envy comes over you. Why is it that there are those who seem to pick up another language with little effort. Yet you still struggle to ask for two glasses of coke and a hamburger in Japanese?


How are these language geniuses outclassing and outpacing you, and what are their secrets? Please read on to find out you can adapt their winning habits to your favour.



1. They're more competitive than you


To be good at something you have to want to do it. People who are competitive will do everything they can to succeed in their target language. They will get up early or work into the night to perfect their studies. Will they boast and tell everyone of their hard work? Not likely. They want all that hard work hidden so that they can speak fluently and make you think they can walk on water. By appearing to easily master a foreign language they bestow on people the impression that they are clever and quick to learn.


As people, they are also more attractive due to this quality. If you travel abroad and visit backpacking sites, you'll notice people gravitate towards those who can easily use the local language. People will often fall (even romantically) under the spell of the confident traveller who can easily integrate with locals, and can navigate foreign soil more easily due to this. Consider how you could meet more people and have a better time travelling if you were more motivated to study.



2. They don't waste time on social media


During the YouTube video 'Quit social media' (part of a TEDx talk) it is revealed that social media companies are looking at more ways to addict users. In the TEDx talk, Dr. Cal Newport reveals that Las Vegas often employed addiction specialists to ensure people kept on gambling until their last dime was gone. Now he advises that social media companies are using similar tactics to keep people glued to their smartphones.


Dr. Newport also emphasises that social media use doesn't really make you any money. There is truth in this statement if you consider how many hours a day some people use social media. Let's say someone uses social media for two and a half hours a day. That comes to seventeen and a half hours per week checking status updates etc. Imagine what that extra time could do for someone's language studies?


If you think in terms of skills, using social media is a skill free profession. Anyone can do it and there is an over abundance of people doing so. Now consider the Mandarin language, if mastered the Mandarin language could advance your career and make you a lot more money in the process. People who are good at languages know all this, and that's why they don't sit in their dressing gowns all morning looking at other people's status updates.



3. They can prioritise their time


We will often do chores as a way to avoid practising languages. 'I'll just clean up before I start' think some people, and two hours later a friend arrives and they find there's not enough time left to practice. The smart person who is fluent in a language knows that time can be vicious if you take it for granted. They have their entire day mapped out and are focused on their goal. Leaving nothing to chance, they have 8am to 10am mapped out as language study time and their phone will be switched to silent also.


Instead of removing friends from your day in order to study, plan ahead to meet them. This also makes it more likely you won't be disturbed when you sit down to study, and that you have something to look forward to later in the day. Pick a time of day to study and stick to it. Clean up the apartment once you've mastered more vocabulary and concentrate on what's more important in the long term.



4. They love to talk


Even in your own language, making small talk and building relationships can be difficult. All that can improve this is practice, and taking the time to listen to people and to give them the time of day when they say hello. If you're struggling to speak in your target language, then consider talking more in your own language.


Gain more confidence in one on one interaction, and then come back to oral practice of the foreign language you want to master. People who become fluent in another language are often very chatty. They're excited at the thought of meeting new people and talking to them, even in another language.


Try to visualise yourself socialising more when you travel abroad, and all the opportunities that may bring you. You may find this empowers you to practice more often, and you become less afraid of having to speak to someone in German, French etc.



5. They understand how to remove negative self talk


I believe it takes a lot of courage to study a foreign language. Until I started teaching English, I did not realise how complicated and tricky my own native language was. This gave me a sense of admiration for my students, and anyone else who wants to learn another language. It is easy to defeat yourself with negative talk such as:


  • I'm not getting anywhere, what is the point?
  • It's been three years and it is proving to be pointless.
  • This is a waste of time!


We've probably all had similar thoughts before such as the above. These thoughts can be very destructive. They have a habit of entering the subconscious where they can do the most damage. We will find ourselves doing other things to avoid study time, and self sabotaging ourselves in the process.


Smart people counter negative self talk by replacing it with more helpful and positive self talk. For one week, try writing down any negative thoughts you have about your language studies. Then, being realistic, write out more positive sentences to replace the negative ones:


  • It's been a struggle, but I am making progress. So why quit?
  • In three years I have done really well. I can introduce myself to people,
    give directions, and even rob a bank using the Swedish language.


Hero image by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash