GuestPostI’m thrilled to introduce you to my fellow English Language Trainer, Justin Murray. He has kindly agreed to write an article for my blog. In his article, Justin explores the 5 characteristics that every successful language learner has and that can be developed by anyone to achieve English fluency. A must read.


Tip of the IcebergA lot of people look at successful language learners and attribute their achievements to natural ability, favorable circumstances, or because they chose the right school or method.  While these are all important ingredients to success, they are just the tip of the iceberg [the most apparent part of a much deeper and complex problem].

In reality, they do little to explain why so many self-taught learners reach high levels of fluency without the help of any of these, or why others, despite having every conceivable advantage, fail miserably.

 “If you are NOT WILLING to learn, no one can help you. If you are DETERMINED to learn, no one can stop you.” –Anonymous

There is something much more fundamental at play here, something that has much more to do with psychology, self-help, and human motivation than conventional EFL methodology.

Today we are going to explore the hidden forces of successful language learners, including character traits, attitudes, and learning habits that go way beyond traditional classroom learning to the multi-disciplinary heart of all great learners.

Here are the 5 characteristics of successful language learners:

They Are Intrinsically Motivated to Learn

Successful learners have a strong sense of purpose for what they are doing. Whether it’s unconscious or conscious, you must cultivate an internal reservoir of motivation. Nobody else can give you a better reason to learn than you can give yourself.
While it’s common to be influenced by external motivating factors such as professional success, travel, or maybe even the will of somebody else (i.e. parents, boss), good learners must find a way to truly care about their learning process.

Having a strong base of intrinsic motivation will help you prioritize your learning, push through hard times when you are not feeling well or when it seems boring, and enjoy the process.

Remember, we learn best when we are having fun!

2. They Take Responsibility For Their Learning

While intrinsic motivation is excellent to get you inspired and interested in learning, this will generally not take you all the way if you are still not ready to take responsibility for your learning process.

This is to recognize your own vital role in the learning process, and that no matter how much you pay a teacher or a school, no matter how many great resources and advantages you have, YOU have to put in the work.

In this sense, successful language learners don’t relegate this responsibility to others, they don’t look for magic bullet solutions [overly simple and easy solutions that don’t really work], and they don’t expect an English course alone to bring them to fluency.

They evaluate what works and what doesn’t, they experiment, and they take their processes into their own hands. Because they take responsibility for their learning, they learn at every step and enjoy the rewards of lifelong fluency.

3. They Connect Their English To Their Life

Because successful learners are intrinsically motivated and take responsibility for their learning, they quickly discover that the most effective learning approach is to make it as real as possible.

They connect their learning to the things they enjoy and their English learning becomes a real life experience. This may be hard at first and demand a lot of patience, but it gets easier and easier as you advance and get engaged.

These authentic experiences may include entertaining native speaking media such as music, TV shows/movies, TED Talks, podcasts, video games, or more EFL focused learning experiences such as awesome blogs like this one, podcasts, and online learning communities.

Successful learners make English a fun, convenient and practical part of their daily life. The inevitable result of this, sooner or later, is that it becomes a natural part of who you are.

4. They Aren’t Afraid to Make Mistakes

One of the most universal characteristics of successful people in any field is the willingness to take risks and to fail. This is especially true with English. If you are to be successful, you have to find opportunities to open your mouth and start making mistakes.

The problem is that this is one of the most difficult things for people learning English to do. A big reason for this is that a lot of conventional approaches do not promote mistakes as a natural part of the process.

“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” –Thomas J. Watson

The courage to make mistakes demands a healthy combination of confidence, humility, and perseverance. It’s not something that happens overnight, but if you recognize the importance of it and put yourself out there, it can happen pretty quickly.

5. They Build Support Networks

The final characteristic of successful language learners is that they participate in and create support networks, which are groups of people to support them on their path to fluency. This includes teachers, role models, friends, cheerleaders, and conversation partners.

We all know that no matter what we do in life, we’re much better off if we do it with a group or community of people who are on the same path and can help us get there faster. This is especially true with language learning because it’s a communication system and it cannot be learned the same way as other subjects.

Having a support network will not only give you the opportunity to practice what you’re learning and people to model your behavior around, but it will inject your learning process with constructive feedback and support.

 The Tip of the Iceberg

 All of these hidden ingredients to language learning success come down to the fact that nobody else can learn a language for you, and you can’t pay somebody to give you these characteristics.

Again, there are plenty of self-taught learners who have never paid anybody for anything but have reached impressive levels of fluency.

To be a great language learner you need to work on yourself. If this is considered self-help, so be it. Way too many English learners fail because they believe that all they have to do is pay somebody, listen to instructions, and learn grammar step by step, all the while ignoring the internal dimension.

When you focus on developing these characteristics in your English learning process, you will become more developed, disciplined, and self-directed, not just in your English learning, but in your whole life.


Justin Murray is the co-founder of RealLife English, a hot new EFL blog and International English learning community.


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Ciao for now.