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5 Habits Of The Successful Language Learner (Inspired By Creative Geniuses)

What can we learn from great artists and writers like Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie? Can emulating their habits also help us to learn a language?

During your school years, you certainly heard more than once — probably from one of your teachers — that, "to study efficiently, you must spend a lot of time pouring over your books, and learning things by heart if necessary." That would certainly make Giacomo Leopardi very proud. The Italian poet, philosopher and writer is not only famous for his literary output and his intellectual pessimism, but also because he spent "seven years of crazy and desperate study" in his father’s library in order to learn as much as he could.

Respect, Giacomo, but here at Babbel we have a different idea. We certainly don’t want to subvert years and years of solid teaching tradition, but we think that it’s also possible to learn a lot of things while having fun and without the stress. No offense, Giacomo.

That’s right, we are convinced that it’s actually possible to learn a language without locking yourself in a library, canceling your social life and straining your brain (and your back) on grammar books. In case you missed it, our polyglots demonstrated this in the Romanian Challenge. We asked them to learn Romanian in one hour!

Well, ok, nobody is asking you to learn a language in just one hour (that´s quite extreme) — but what if you wanted to know how this is actually possible?

We decided to carefully analyze the routines of some famous writers, artists and visionaries, and apply them to the field of language learning. We’ve turned that into a list of habits you should assimilate if you want to become a more successful language student. And… spoiler alert: the following habits are dramatically similar to the tips and tricks that our polyglots practice.

But let’s start from the beginning. First of all, download the Babbel app on your smartphone. Great, from now on you have a pocket-sized teacher, ready to help you when, where, and how you want. Now it’s your turn!

Agatha Christie’s adaptability

Did you know that Agatha Christie didn’t need a desk to write her books? To be honest, the legend says that she didn’t even have a desk! Isn’t that incredible considering her huge literary output?

Is it, though? If we think about it, it’s not incredible at all. The Queen of Crime, in fact, wrote where, how, when she wanted to: in hotel rooms, on trains, at bars, and so on. She didn’t even write her books in chronological order. Instead, she used to write the end of the book first. Rebel rebel.

And this is more or less what we are asking you to do: stop for a second and think about yourself. It might sound obvious but we are not all the same. Some of us are very active in the mornings, others at night. Some of us are able to hold our concentration for a long time, others for only short bursts. Some of us learn with images, some with text and others with sounds. Some of us like to study at a tidy desk, some like to study in bed, whereas others prefer the metro while commuting to work.

The conclusion is quite clear: if all these people were to attend the same language class, at the same time of the day, with the same teacher, using the same method, many of them would probably not end up with the best results. We are not saying that they wouldn’t learn anything but we are saying that they wouldn’t learn as much as they could in a lesson tailored to their learning habits and needs.

Get your inspiration from Agatha Christie: know yourself, listen to your mind and your body, and ask them what kind of student you are. Now reach into your pocket for that tiny teacher you just downloaded. You can study at the best time of the day for you, using your preferred method, for as long as you desire. It’s all in your hands!

Easy, right? If only our friend Giacomo Leopardi had known this, maybe his destiny would have been different.

Steve Jobs’ curiosity

Do you remember the famous speech that Steve Jobs gave to the students of Stanford University? "Stay hungry, stay foolish!"

We Babbelonians agree with him: isn’t curiosity the main motivator that pushes you to study and improve yourself? And how do you "stay hungry"? You push yourself forward!

It’s pretty amazing that, thanks to a foreign language, you will be able to talk to people from other countries and immerse yourself in different cultures when you travel — minus the language barrier.

Besides the classic motivators (love, work, holidays) why did you start this language course? Wasn’t it to satisfy your curiosity, your inner desire for knowledge? It´s a good thing then that you have your smartphone in your pocket and can potentially start right now!

William Faulker’s persistence

Ok, so you know what kind of student you are, you know that curiosity should be your driving force… Now what?

Now, you have to take things a little bit more seriously: when you committed to a language course, you knew that a certain amount of effort was needed, right? We won’t lie to you: a small sacrifice is required.

But don’t be afraid. You won’t need to cancel your social life. We are only asking you to persist a little. To be sure that you retain what you learn, you’ll need to be consistent and dedicate 10 to 15 minutes of your day to the foreign language of your choice. And guess what? Babble designed the lessons with this in mind: you will be able to dovetail them into your daily routine, keeping your motivation levels up and allowing you to study without interrupting your other activities and without the classic excuse of, "I don’t have time because I have a full time job."

What? We didn’t mention a famous person yet?

Here you go: William Faulkner paid for university thanks to a night job as a coal shoveler and used the breaks between his shifts to write — using the wheelbarrow as his desk! Need we say more?

Marina Abramović’s discipline

This habit is strictly connected to the previous one and, like persistence, it shouldn’t scare you. We are not talking about Leopardi´s "seven crazy years", but simply ask that you stick to your commitment and maintain your motivation and curiosity.

Ask Marina Abramović: before every important performance, her strict preparation routine, tightly scheduled in every respect, increases her focus level, leading her to ultimate success.

No matter the exact preparation steps she takes (she’s a performance artist, so you certainly don’t need to imitate what she does), we do suggest that you use her as a source of inspiration. Your goal is to learn a language, right? If you want to succeed, you’ll need to establish a little daily routine — for instance, 15 minutes of Babbel per day — and stick with it.

Ernest Hemingway’s bravery

"Courage comes such a short distance; from the heart to the head, but when it goes no one knows how far away it goes," said Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon. What does that mean? Courage comes such a short distance, and it should be exploited when you find it. If you wait, it might be too late. "When it goes, no one knows how far away it goes." What about language learning? We think — and probably old Ernest would agree with us — that you shouldn’t think too much or be defeated by the fear of making a mistake. You only know a bunch of sentences and a few random words in a foreign language? Who cares! Be brave and try talking to people! You will gain a lot of self confidence just from trying because — guess what? — people will probably understand you and be delighted. At that point, you won’t be able to stop. Every milestone and every little success will fuel your motivation, and you’ll realize that you’re up for new challenges and ready to learn more and more.

"Courage comes such a short distance." You were right, Papa Hemingway!

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