Why Independent Learners Succeed at Language Learning

By OptiLingo • 7 minute read

How Can You Become Fluent in Multiple Languages?

It’s easy to be blown away by people’s ability to learn a second language if you’ve never learned one before. From the outside, it can seem downright impossible to master a second language, let alone multiple ones. And yet people do it. Polyglots have been known to be fluent in up to twenty or more languages. How can this be? Are they gifted? Is there a language gene? The truth is that this talent comes from enthusiasm for languages and being an independent learner.

What Is an Independent Learner?

An independent learner is someone who takes on the task of learning without pressure from the outside world. In a traditional setting, students sit in class and often passively “absorb” knowledge. It’s an ineffective way to learn. Simply showing up does not develop your brain nor does it make you better at whatever you’re trying to improve.

Think about it like this: How do you learn to snowboard? Do you rent the equipment, show up on the slopes, and sit down, staring at the fresh powder? You’re there. You have all the materials you need to succeed. But how does success happen? How does talent develop? You have to act. You need to use the materials and develop a pattern of success. This takes time, and in the case of snowboarding, a lot of painful falls.

Another way to look it would be from the perspective as a homeschooler. If you study at home, then you need to set up the right environment so you can learn. And when done right, learning at home is often the best environment.  There are fewer distractions but more responsibility on you as both the learner and the teacher. The result is more accountability and a drive to study and learn. After all, if you fall behind on your lessons, there’s no system or teacher to blame.

Either way, the more you practice, the better you become. Lessons speed up the process at first. They build a foundation that can guide you to the bottom faster and safer, saving you time from making beginner mistakes. But there’s a point where lessons don’t do you any more good, and you need to go it alone. Going it alone is what independent learners do.

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What Are the Characteristics of an Independent Learner?

Independent learners learn on their own, that much is obvious. Anyone can be an independent learner. Understanding and applying the following characteristics can yield an exponential return on not just the time you put into language learning, but into all aspects of your life. Here is a list of ways you can become an independent learner:

  • Maintain a Positive Mindset: Chasing your interests and teaching yourself doesn’t have to be a long, boring experience. In the beginning, you’ll have to work hard to overcome any negativity associated with learning on your own. Start off each study session with a growth mindset and you’ll be more prepared to learn in a way that you’ll remember.
  • Stay Curious: Curiosity drives independent learners. Sit down with a book on your own and dive in without needing a teacher there to push you along.
  • Visualize Your Success: If you start off believing you will fail, you will fail. Independent learners know that they will figure it out. It may take longer than anticipated, and it may be frustrating along the way. However, they know that regardless of the obstacles, they will succeed. This keeps them coming back to the topic again and again.
  • Build Focus: When you start out learning on your own, it will be hard to focus. The more you practice reading and figuring things out on your own. The more your attention span will increase. And when you feel it slipping, give yourself a break. When you come back, try to focus a little longer. This will help increase the endurance of your mental focus.
  • Share Goals: Just because you’re learning on your own, doesn’t mean that you need to be isolated. Collaborating with other independent learners can push you towards your goals, provide an outlet to share confusions, and learn better strategies that work.
  • Graze: Branch out from your interests and try to learn more about a variety of topics. The information you pick up can be useful when you approach more complex problems. This is because many topics are connected, knowing more means you have access to better resources to help you find solutions.
  • Keep Trying: Don’t Give up. New habits need time to form in your brain, the longer you stick with it, the more successful you will be.
  • Take Control: The first step is to realize that you have the power to learn anything. Sign up for one of the many language learning programs and begin working towards your goal of foreign language fluency.

How Can You Become an Independent Language Learner?

Becoming an independent learner doesn’t happen overnight. The key thing to remember is that skills and habits take time to develop. Start out small by focusing on a few weak points and develop those skills. It’s not that your brain will fight you, but that it needs time to adjust and build different pathways that will help you rapidly build those abilities.

People often fail at making a change in their lives because they don’t give their mind enough time to adapt to the new parameters they want to set for themselves. So take your time, and think baby steps. The more time you spend with it, the easier it becomes.

How Can You Apply Independent Learning Toward Fluency?

You’ve already learned the basics of language when when you were a child. And by the time we’re in high school, we can speak with rapid, academic fluency for the most part. The only difference when you learn a second language is that we’ve forgotten what it was like when we first learned a language.

When you sit down with your target language the first time, going over the basics helps. But you don’t need to have a teacher to guarantee success. In fact, many people who sit in a language classroom with teacher guidance still regularly fail to learn the language. This is because it can be too easy to rely on the teacher and jump through the hoops to pass tests rather than learn the language. Independent learners hold themselves accountable and work towards success.

The Ultimate Goal Is Fluency

The mindset of an independent learner is one that appreciates that learning has no end. They’re they kind of people who achieve fluency but still pop in a language tape to keep improving their language. They know there’s no final “ending point.” Independent learners don’t just approach a topic with the goal of learning it, and they approach it knowing that no matter how many times they return to it, there’s always more work to do.

If your goal is fluency you need constant exposure to the language. Learn new vocabulary words, work on your accent, and continue an appreciation of the culture, not because you hope to reach an end, but because you hope it never ends.