The Secret to Optimizing Your Language Practice Time

“A world in which deliberate practice is a normal part of life would be one in which people had more volition and satisfaction.”

Anders Ericsson

Reading time: 2 minutes

The previous sections have talked about finding a vision for your language ability and determining the steps you will take to reach your goals. If you have a clear vision and goals to reach it, you have already won half the battle, but without knowing how to effectively practice you will only have half a battle, which in the end is a loss.

So what about the actual doing–the other half of the battle? What does good (and bad) practice look like?

For practice to be effective, it needs to be deliberate and purposeful. 

Check out this passage from one of BYU’s Arabic professors, Dr. Kirk Belnap, that he shared with the BYU Arabic program:

On Advanced Level Language Learning 

We tend to think that to continue to progress we just need more exposure to the language and opportunity to use it. There’s some truth to this, but the progress will be frustratingly slow if we do not adhere closely to proven principles of learning, such as goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback. But what would that look like? Here are a few ideas. 

Learning and performance are best fostered when:

  • students engage in practice that focuses on a specific goal or criterion, 
  • targets an appropriate level of challenge, 
  • and is of sufficient quantity and frequency to meet the performance criteria. 

Practice must be coupled with feedback that:

  • Explicitly communicates about some aspect(s) of students’ performance relative to specific target criteria
  • Provides information to help students progress in meeting those criteria
  • And is given at a time and frequency that allows it to be useful. 

One student was able to apply this principle when she decided to be deliberate about her speaking time:

I tried to take advantage of the situations I was in, like when we were shopping, so I tried different techniques for haggling and watched what the natives did, and then tried harder at the next place. It was really great practice, and because of a few hours of albeit short, but many conversations, I feel confident in my ability to haggle with most people and do the click/head nod for no.

Instead of just going where the wind took her, this student chose to focus on one particular skill: bartering. She tried different things and paid attention to native models and native feedback.

And after a relatively short amount of time, she acquired this skill! Honing in on a specific skill and targeted feedback give you the most bang for your buck in your practice time. 

Try it out!

Time required: 1-2 minutes

Deliberate practice is a habit more than anything, and developing it takes time. 

In 60-90 seconds, think about your current study of the language. 

How deliberate (purposeful) is it? What can you do to make it more meaningful?