Feel confident learning Asian languages… Want to know how?

I remember learning a bit of Indonesian in primary school, a touch of Japanese in high school and some French at uni.

Can I now speak all of these languages? Certainly not!

I can say “Bonjour!” in French, count to ten in Bahasa Indonesia and answer the phone in Japanese: “Moshi-moshi!”

After researching strategies for learning a new Asian language to help students, my only thought tonight is “Ohhh Retrospect, why do you torment me so?”

How can I soothe my wounded mono-linguistic pride? Well, by sharing what I found with the reader so they can kick ass in class and never know the company of Retrospect and Lament in the one room: Asian languages, among others, can be mastered with the right approach.
Historically, students naturally talented in learning new languages were admired for their success, but seen as unique in their abilities. With the cognitive revolution of the 1970s, closer examination of successful students revealed underlying tendencies that can used by others to experience success.
Pezhman Zare (2012) compiled the following list of tendencies of effective language learners. They:
1. Find their own way, taking responsibility for their own learning;
2. Organise information about language;
3. Are creative, and try to feel the language by experimenting with its grammar and words;
4. Create opportunities for practice in using the language inside and outside the classroom;
5. Learn to live with uncertainty by not getting confused and continuing to talk or listen without understanding every word;
6. Use memory strategies to bring back what has been learned;
7. Make errors work for them and not against them;
8. Use linguistic knowledge, including knowledge of the first language, in learning a second language;
9. Use contextual cues to help them in comprehension;
10. Learn to make intelligent guesses;
11. Learn chunks of language as wholes and formalise routines to help them perform “beyond their competence”;
12. Learn to use certain tricks to keep conversations going;
13. Learn certain production strategies to fill in gaps in their own competence, and
14. Learn different styles of speech and writing, and learn to vary their language regarding the formality of the situation.
Additionally, Zare reveals the significant impact of using learning strategies to master a target Asian language, saying that “employment of language learning strategies facilitate and improve language learning and assist language learner(s)”.
When using a learning strategy, a student takes an intentional and systematic approach to develop their language skills. Zare reports a strong correlation between language proficiency and using a learning strategy.
Effective students have been found to use both a greater variety of learning strategies and a larger number of strategies in general.
The overarching recommendation is to be proactive and mindful of how you study language, rather than going with the flow of prescribed studies.
My language-learning endeavours may lay in tatters but by applying these findings, yours need not. If you have any language-learning stories you’d like to share, or advice and lessons from personal experience, please share them with a comment so others may learn from your hard-earned wisdom.
Language Learning Strategies Among EFL/ESL Learners: A Review of Literature, 2012, Pezhman Zare, International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Vol. 2 No. 5; March 2012
Online Advocate/Australian Higher Education/Community Health/Youth Mental Health. Follow me on Twitter @writerinsight


  1. Emily

    19/11/2012 at 9:46 pm

    Hi Thomas, I have a question by reading your article. How do you think about for people learning a second language,particularly learning a totally different language system, do they should study the culture which the language carrying on first or simply start to learn a brand new language and through the language to understand the culture and probably understand more?

  2. Thomas Mort

    19/11/2012 at 10:32 pm

    Hi Emily,
    In my opinion, empathising with native speakers of a language is essential to later mastery of that language and my research supports this. While studying Bahasa Indonesia, our lecturer, Geoff Wollum (UQ), placed great emphasis on exploring and developing awareness of Indonesian culture. Not only did this make learning Indonesian more enjoyable but it also helped later recollection of the language lessons.
    I hope this answers your question Emily? Let me know if you have additional thoughts.

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