My connection with languages began early in my life. As a child who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, I learned English by total immersion and was fluent and successful […]
Whether you are learning to improve your job prospects, do better in school, get readyfor a trip abroad or even just for fun, there are three common habits that all successfullanguage learners share. We analyzed data from millions of Duolingo users and, in theprocess, discovered what it really takes to grasp a foreign tongue. Learning a language is a lot like losing weight (sort of) Some language-learning services claim to be so effective that you’ll be fluent in weeks— or even overnight (yeah, right!) Others claim to make you fluent by passivelylistening. We are more realistic: science and personal experience indicate that mostpeople need time to become proficient in a second language. So what does it take to besuccessful in the long run? It might help to compare language-learning with losing weight and staying fit. Can youlose 50 pounds overnight? Fat chance. Over the course of several months? Much morerealistic. Just as you need exercise and a healthy diet to get fit, you need to develop a habit ofregular study and review in order to stick with learning a language and succeed in thelong run. And just as it’s helpful to know what types of foods and exercises are best forstaying healthy, it’s important to know what types of learning habits are best for long-term language-learning success.More than 150 million people across the world use Duolingo to learn languages, manyof them with their phones and tablets during breaks and daily commutes. From theseactivities, we have gathered a tremendous amount of data about learning and behaviorpatterns. Here is some of what we have learned about the best habits for being asuccessful language learner. Habit No. 1: weekends-only and 9-to-5 don’t cut it One of the best predictors of long-term success is doing something on a regular basis. Language learning is no different. In particular, Figure 1 shows that most people whostick with language learning in the long run make sure to spend a few minutespracticing every day or two. On the other hand, people who slip to every 5 or 6 days aremuch more likely to give up altogether. Figure 2 shows that successful learners alsocomplete considerably more sessions per week, meaning they spend a good amount oftime studying. We also identified “clusters” of usage patterns, such as “weekenders” who only use theapp on weekends, or “nine-to-fivers” who only study during the week during typicalwork hours. Figure 3 shows that people in these usage clusters exhibit lower languageability (in terms of a psychometric analysis called IRT) than people who use the appalmost daily. What’s more, people in a different cluster of users who study “daily, atbedtime” even seem to reach a slightly higher proficiency. This finding is consistentwith laboratory research about the effect of sleep on improved language learning. Especially when you are just starting out, it’s worthwhile to develop a daily routine andstudy a few times a day to keep your memory fresh. Our data suggest that you’re morelikely both to stick with it and to learn more in the long run. And if you can make it abedtime habit, even better!