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7 Habits That Make You Learn Languages On Auto-pilot

7 Habits That Make You Learn Languages On Auto-pilot

No one likes the traditional form of studying, face down in a textbook taking notes. At least very few of us do. So if you’re interested in learning a new language, but don’t want to do it through the most mind-numbing form of learning, then you should definitely try these 7 habits that can help you learn a language on auto-pilot.

The first step to learning a language is, of course, picking one to learn. If you’ve already chosen, skip straight on to the habits. If you haven’t decided yet, here are a few things to ask yourself: Is there a language you have always wanted to learn? If several(or none), which language would be more beneficial to know given your current location and life plans? If several again, go with your gut feeling, or check out this post for further guidance.

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Watching TV shows/Movies In Target Language With Subtitles

Pretty straight forward. The only thing I would add is that this isn’t going to have much of an impact if you watch one TV show, or one movie every now and then. Commitment makes all the difference here. If you manage to substitute at least half the time you spend watching normal TV, then you’ll see some drastic results over time. You can also, of course, watch shows with target language as subtitles, but then you don’t hear the correct pronunciation.

Sometimes access can be an issue. But you could, for example, sign up to a site like Netflix through a Spanish proxy, or sign up when you’re on vacation in Spain to enable yourself to watch shows in Spanish without having to go out of your way to buy box sets online.

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Intentionally Hanging Out With People Who Speak Target Language

This might sound selfish and self-serving, but it really doesn’t have to be. In many cases, people will be happy to speak it with you, either because they rarely get the opportunity themselves, or they simply like that someone is trying to learn their language and want to help. If you don’t know anyone who speak the language you want to learn, you should try going to international events, or events specifically for people who are from/interested in the country/language you want to learn. Don’t be afraid to take initiative and arrange events and get-togethers.

Journal Or Blog In Target Language

Using a service like lang-8, you can write random things and get what you write corrected by native speakers. So not only are you getting practice and memorizing vocabulary and grammar by actively using them, you get corrected when you make mistakes. Sounds almost too good to be true right? Well it isn’t. And if you’re too self conscious to share right away, you can always start off writing for yourself, and then start sharing on platforms to be corrected later on.

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Change Operating Languages To Target Language

Many of us are so used to the interfaces on our computers and phones that we intuitively know where everything is, even if we can’t completely understand the language. So changing to your target language, is likely not going to affect your ability to use the device, even if you don’t know it very well yet. This forces you to interact with the target language many times on a daily basis, and will help by installing basic vocabulary so you don’t ever forget it.

Play Games In Target Language

There’s two approaches to this. If you play one or more online games, you can go all out and play with people who speak the target language. That way you’re forcing yourself use it to interact with other people on a regular basis. If you only play games offline, you can stick to changing the language where possible. Sometimes that means re-installing one of your favorite games. Even in offline games, a lot of dialogue comes up, and as such can be a great source for remembering basic grammar and vocabulary. Particularly because it is a leisure activity and very easy to motivate oneself to keep doing for long periods of time.

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Study Vocabulary Using Pockets Of Time

There’s a lot of downtime during any given day. If you’re stuck waiting for the bus, or on the train, or sitting constipated on the toilet, waiting and praying for something to happen… take out your phone and study some vocabulary. There are decent free apps for almost any language, but you want to focus on ones that make it very practical to study one piece of vocabulary at a time. If you don’t have a smartphone, you could always make your own flash cards. It takes a bit more effort, but because it requires more active involvement, it is probably better for the actual learning. My personal favorite for Japanese is the Obenkyo app for Android.

Advanced: Read Books In Target Language

Again, pretty straight forward. And again the key is commitment. If you read a book every 7 months, not much will change. But if you start reading books in your target language on a regular basis, you will see your skills soar higher than you had imagined possible.

Advanced: Think In Target Language

If you don’t have enough opportunities to do actual conversation, this can be a way to test your grammar skills and notice any huge gaps in your vocabulary. Try to think about things that would come up in normal conversation at first, and then move on to more complicated matters as you get better. Talking out loud to yourself is optional here, but again, it is good training if you find yourself lacking opportunities to speak to someone in the target language.

Alone these habits won’t make that much of a difference. (Except the hanging out with people who speak your target language part. That can really make all the difference. I’ve seen it transform people who could barely speak one phrase, into semi-fluent in a matter of weeks.) But regardless, you will see the best and fastest results if you manage to implement multiple of these habits into your daily routine. Start with 1 or 2 and work your way up. Pretty soon you’ll be learning a language at a rapid pace and it won’t feel like you’re even trying that hard.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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