The Mindset or Psychology of an Effective Language Learner

Hello Junkies!

Warning and hold on to your hats! We’re going deep here! If you’d like some fast, easy answers about language learning– skip this piece of writing. Or, come back to it later!

This is all about the mindset of learning any language – or language learning psychology.

What is a good mindset to have?

Well, there’s a really good story that comes to mind.

Here it is.

Nan-in, a Japanese zen master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to learn about Zen directly from the master.

The two sat down. The professor began to talk and talk about what he knew about zen. His opinions. What he felt was right. What he felt was wrong. Meanwhile, Nan-in served tea.

The professor kept talking about all that he knew. And Nan-in kept pouring the tea.

He poured his visitor’s cup full and kept on pouring.

The professor watched the cup overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “Stop! It is overflowing. No more will go in.” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

This highlights a huge problem in learning language or anything for that matter. Your cup, or your mind, may be somewhat full. You might have read about “how to learn” and have some ideas about what’s “best.”

All of these have shaped you.

All of these will affect in how you learn (or, how you won’t!)

Language learning examples include:

  • “I’m just not the language learning type.”
  • “I believe best way is to aim for success and fluency. Because why learn at all?”
  • “I don’t think textbooks are helpful at all. I can’t speak using books.”
  • “If it’s boring, then it’s not a good way to learn!”
  • “Free resources are the best.Why should I spend money to learn?”
  • “Pay money. You’ll be motivated and you get what you pay for.
  • “I can’t learn a language unless I’m putting in 5 hours a day.”
  • “I can’t learn a language IF I’m ONLY putting in 10 minutes a day.”

Notice how I’m including some complete opposites here? There’s a reason.

Do any of these cross your mind? Or, do you have any of your own?

So what’s the problem? Taking these as 100% undeniable, unbreakable,  “truths” and guaranteed paths to success – will lead you to failure. There’s a reason why I stuck in complete opposites there – sticking to any one and discounting the other – despite that the other could work just as well – that’s you stopping yourself from learning because you believe X is right and Y is wrong.

For example, it’s true – books won’t teach you to speak a language. They can’t open your mouth for you. However, they serve a different purpose – they guide you from ZERO to reading, writing and formulating sentences.

Now your cup, or mind, is already full of “advice” and best practices.

How can you best learn a language if you already have “beliefs” about learning a language?

You can’t.

Let’s go through some of them again and break then down.

“I’m just not the language learning type.”
You’re not? Well, how long have you stuck with it? Any beginner will be awful at it. It’s not hard to learn some phrases on a daily basis. You just have a mental barrier that says “no, i can’t learn languages” despite the fact that if you tried, you would.  That’s like saying “no, I can’t run a mile” or “I can’t run 1/2 a mile” or “I can’t even pick up my foot to take the first step.”  See how ridiculous it sounds when we go all the way down to the “taking first step?”

“If it’s boring, then it’s not a good way to learn!”
Sure, things are enjoyable when they’re fun. Whether it’s boring or not is your developed preference. However, some “boring” methods could be the most effective ones – and you’re discounting them because you think “if it’s not fun, it’s not good enough.” How do you know?

Some find books boring. Books are effective in their own ways.

“Free resources are the best.Why should I spend money to learn?”
This is a common one. Why should you spend money? Well, you’ll be spending something else – time. And time flies. Free resources aren’t always of best quality. Money can buy more effective tools – books, classes, online courses, tutors and teachers.

“Pay money. You’ll be motivated and you get what you pay for.”
Let’s try the opposite view. This can easily be struck down too. Beginners that immediately pay money for a textbook expect to be motivated because they’ve already invested. Wrong. 2 weeks later, that book is under your bed. Why? They have no consistency. It’s easier to start with something free – see if you can maintain consistency. Consistency + free resources will help you tons more than paying money + having no study habits.

See how these learning tips and beliefs can be easily struck down? Even the ones that are completely opposite of each other?

These come from a very strict and rigid mindset.

So, what’s the best mindset?

1. Empty your cup. Be open and eager to learn.
There’s a reason why kids learn faster than adults. Aside from having nothing else to do all day, aside from having 24/7 language practice with their parents… there’s one massive advantage that they have. They’re empty cups. They’ve yet to build preferences, serious beliefs and whatnot. They’re eager to learn without questioning why or how.

  • Give an adult a puzzle and they’ll quit after 5 minutes. More “important” things to do.
  • Give a child a puzzle and they’ll be at it for hours.
  • Ask an adult to learn Spanish? “Oh, no, too too hard. Too much time investment. It’s not practical for me anyway. I’m too busy. *resumes to watching TV shows after work*
  • Ask a child to learn Spanish? “Cool! Yeah! I want to learn! Where? How? Now?”

Empty your cup and push to learn. You can ask skeptical questions later.

2. Look for value. If you read enough product reviews, they call come with cons. Of course. What doesn’t? If I wrote a review on YOU, I COULD list some cons too (is lazy, never on time, and so on.) Remember the textbook example? It won’t get you speaking but it will guide you from A to Z in terms of grammar, reading, writing and vocab.

Anyone can look for flaws if that’s ALL they’re looking for.

And looking for flaws won’t help you with language.

However, to look for value and how it can help you is a good mindset to have.

3. Don’t expect success and prepare yourself for the long journey.

Don’t expect it on Day 1. Day 20. Day 100. Just keep at it.

People quit because they expect success fast. Well, language takes time. Once you drop expectations and realize you’re in it for the long haul, you’ll be a lot better off.

You’ll be less stressed about reaching goals.

You’ll be less stressed about “bad days” because success doesn’t come fast. And bad days happen.

You’ll take it more seriously on a daily basis because it’s a long journey. You’ll realize that each day adds up to the result of the long journey. Thus, skipping a day, is skipping progress.

(And to be honest – it doesn’t take THAT long. A good year is more than enough to speak fluidly with no problem.)

4. Aim to be consistent and aim to be a finisher.
Those books lying under your bed. Those untouched (or should I say… untapped) apps. Those audio lessons. They could really improve your language if you picked them up, worked at them, and finished them.

And even more so, if you re-do them completely.

Reviewing is a massively undervalued tactic in learning.

The fact that you can stick with a resource until the end is a good sign. First, you’re strengthening your habit and consistency. This is where beginners fail. Second, if you’ve finished them, you can finish anything else.

And you can hit your language goals.

And finally.

5. Don’t take advice as 100% undeniable, unbreakable truths.


“If it’s boring, then it’s not a good way to learn!”

Just because a resource is boring doesn’t mean it’s not effective. Do what works for you. For example, at some point, textbooks will no longer serve your purpose. They’re not bad. You’ve just pulled the most value out of them. You’ll want speaking practice and a real tutor.

Your situation will change. Some resources will no longer be useful such as apps that teach you the alphabet and vocabulary apps. You’ll be a lot better. Some rules you followed will no longer make sense. You’ll need new ones. Again, that doesn’t mean they’re bad.

You’ve just outgrown them.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you have any language learning beliefs that you’ve stuck to? Have you examined as to whether they’re legit or not? Let me know your thoughts!

Leave a comment below!

The Main Junkie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *