Language Learners: What is your level of responsibility for learning?

As language learners move from the beginner to intermediate and eventually to the advanced stages of their learning process, the responsibility for learning shifts from the teacher to the student. Setting realistic goals and understanding your level of responsibility during the learning process will allow you to think and become the second language you are striving for.
First, language learners need to set realistic goals. One of the biggest mistakes a language learner can make is to compare themselves to others and visa versa. Each person takes in and digests a second language differently therefore, we must compare ourselves to ourselves. For example, when we were a language learner in our home country, our ability was at level "X". Now, you have an opportunity to study a second language in a school environment in the country where the the language is spoken as a first language. It simply is not realistic to assume that after a period of three to six months that you will be able to speak the second language fluently. When you set goals, they have to be realistic and measurable. Set a series of short-term goals which ultimately will lead to your long-term goal. 

Maybe you'd like to order lunch at Subway but can't express yourself throughout the process? Find a way to get over this hurdle. Achieving this short-term goal is a boost to your confidence which is needed when you fall short on sophisticated vocabulary words, the conjugation of irregular verbs, and get overwhelmed with the various grammar points. The best way to measure your knowledge in English for example is by taking the TOEFL and TOEIC tests. Be prepared to take these tests more than once to achieve the desired score and stay positive by finding success in short-term projects.

Next, as language learners, you need to understand our responsibility for learning. At the beginner level, language learners are responsible for 25% while the instructor makes up the remaining 75%. In the intermediate level, the responsibility for learning is shared at 50-50. At the advanced level, language learners are responsible for 75% while the instructor makes up the remaining 25%.

With more and more of the responsibility being bore by the the language learner, these five tips for learning a second language will allow you to fill in the gaps as you move forward with your second language.

1. Find a structured course and stick with it. Whenever I take on a student for a private lesson, the lesson usually ends with them thanking me since for the past six months, they have been studying English by themselves and learned more in a one-hour tutoring session with me than they did in those six months. The key is to have structure and a sense of purpose that is measurable and specific. For example, "I am studying English because when I take a trip this summer to Australia, I do not want to take this trip with a tour. I want to travel independently." This was the case for my adult students in Japan. Or, "I want to return to my home country and work for a foreign company and the prerequisite is to have "X" score on the TOEIC in order to be considered."

2. Find what works for you. For me, I love to travel, try different kinds of food, watch sporting events and read about historical events. By identifying my hobbies, I was able to make language learning interesting when I became burnt out on the academic portion of my language learning studies. As a result, I continued to learn and remained grounded in my second language.

3. Be "8x". Years ago, a computer's hard-drive read CDs at a certain speed. Then the next generation of computers stated that the computers could read CDs at 2x the speed, or twice as much or twice as fast. I look at many language learners who perform at 1 or 2 "x", meaning that they attend a weekly class, maybe, and do some English-related homework. This is, they think, "enough." Since the language learner's responsibility grows as they become more and more advanced, this is not enough. Therefore, we must be 8x meaning we need to take advantage of every opportunity at our disposal. Structured learning courses may have computer-based programs that will allow extra repetition in troubled areas of our learning. Study halls may be available where we can ask the instructor for one-on-one instruction is another possibility. Maybe offering to exchange an hour of English conversation for an hour of advice on traveling in your home country is another way to taking in extra instruction.

Other ways are if you ride the bus to school, ask the person sitting next to you about the recent game. Explain that you are new to the area and don't know much about the game but know that the locals follow it and you are interested. Or, if striking up conversation with strangers is not for you, listen to NPR or other local talk shows on the radio on your commute to school. Make notes and strike up conversation with your teacher. Find out the weather on the local TV broadcast before school. If you are living in your home country and doing these things aren't possible since English isn't the main language spoken, download English songs, utilize the Internet by watching English-language clips on Youtube or listen to Read online magazines and newspapers. Do more than just the basics. As Chuck Noll, an American Football coach of four world champion teams in the 1970s stated, "Do the basics better than everyone else." In other words, do more than just enough to get by.

4. Make Friends. When I was a language learner in Japan, it was bitter sweet to learn of Japanese people's experiences when they studied English in the US. They had amazing stories of their experiences with American roommates, some even dated Americans, while others had stories of road trips across country. But, there were many Japanese people who said that finding friends were difficult. If they were around my age, I would reply, "If you were in California, why couldn't we have met?" This was because I was the lone American invited to the International Student Association's quarterly potluck party since I would always make friends with international students on campus. One of those friends became my girlfriend which later became my wife. My wife and I were able to learn from each other's home cultures and each other's languages. Now, in my late 30's I remain grounded in my second language as my goal is to express myself to my in-laws and have the opportunity with weekly Internet calls courtesy of Skype.

5. Never Give Up. The best tip is saved for last. Think for a moment about the size of the mountain you're considering to climb when you begin study a second language. One of my favorite saying that I learned in Japan is, "If we fall down seven times, we get up eight times." The key is to follow through and be aware of your goals. I suggest you write your realistic goals down with the date so that you can measure your progress. By doing these things you'll be satisfied with your language learning progress.

In conclusion, don't give up, remain perseverant to get through the baptism of fire of language learning. Keep goals realistic, measurable and understand the responsibility for language learning. Maintain structure, find a plan that works for you, be proactive, make like minded friends and never give up.

Daniel Stone has been a language learner of Japanese since the mid 1990s when he was a US service member serving at Fleet Activities in Yokosuka City, Kanagawa, Japan. Since then, he worked his way through college with financial assistance from the Montgomery GI Bill and earned his bachelor's degree one month before his 30th birthday. At 31, he began his formal language learning in Japan at Bunkyo University in Koshigaya City, Saitama, Japan. Today, he is the owner/operator of a company that trains expats in English, provides test preparation, and assists with the relocation and family support.

Contact Two Birds One Stone Learning to set up a free "getting acquainted" meeting to see if we are right for you.

Daniel Stone, Principal Consultant and Founder

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Below are selected entries from our blog.

Suggestions on Learning and Improving your English

There are many ways to learn and improve your English.  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Enroll in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class.  Two Birds One Stone Learning is one of the few organizations offering a class in Columbus this summer.  To learn more about this class, please visit: Summer English Conversation Small Group

2.  Make a personal schedule to practice English.  Two Birds One Stone Learning works with students with private lessons either in person or online.

3.  Watch television programs in English. 

4.  Listen to the radio in English.

5.  Practice your English with your family.

6.  Practice your English at work.

7.  Practice English at least one hour a day. 

8.  Practice your English anytime you have a chance.  Please see our previous entry in this blog at
Language Learners: What is your level of responsibility for learning?   Remember, Be "8x" in your learning. 

Two Birds One Stone Learning is based in Columbus, Ohio, but available in person or online.  To see if we are good for you, your family, or your business, contact Daniel Stone, Principal Consultant at or visit our website.