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Why Slow and Steady Wins the English Learning Race

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 @ 08:09 AM

English learning race, large tortoiseThe process of language learning is not glamorous but sometimes we get fooled into thinking that it is.

When we see stories on the news about people who speak twelve languages, it sounds so cosmopolitan, so cool.

But we forget about how much work these people actually put into the process of language learning.

Sure, certain people might be better at it than others, but everyone has to work. You must be consistent, dedicated and you must have an undying desire to achieve your goal. That's why I think that when it comes to learning English, we could learn something from the tortoise.


Do you know the story?


 tortoise and hareDo you know the children's story of the Tortoise and the Hare?

The hare (a rabbit) is very fast and often makes fun of the slow-moving tortoise. One day, the tortoise and the hare decide to have a race.

In the race, the hare sprints ahead and decides to stop to find some food and to take a nap. He can't imagine that the tortoise would ever be able to catch up with him.

However, the tortoise quietly and slowly keeps walking and never stops. When the hare wakes up, the tortoise is just about to cross the finish line. The tortoise jumps up and tries to beat him but the tortoise crosses the finish line first. The tortoise wins the race! Watch a quick video clip below to get the whole story.


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5 Qualities of the Tortoise that Can Help You Learn English



1) The tortoise is steady and consistent


In the race against the hare, the tortoise moves slowly but he keeps moving. He gets knocked down when the hare runs past him but he gets up. He doesn't get distracted. He doesn't sit down for a nap or to get food or to talk with other rabbits like the hare does.


  • get up early to study English, clockHow to be like the tortoise: Sit through a dinner with native English speakers, get completely confused and lost and instead of giving up and feeling discouraged, get up early the next morning and start writing down some of the words that you heard. Look them up in the dictionary. Learn them. Practice them with your language exchange partner. Own the new words and be able to use them at the next dinner party.



2) The tortoise stays focused


The tortoise doesn’t compare himself with others. He isn't concerned with what the hare is doing. He focuses on his goal and just keeps going.


  • stay focused, pencils pointing toward each otherHow to be like the tortoise: Don’t compare yourself with other English learners. You have no idea where they are coming from. We all have different learning styles and different backgrounds. If English is your only second language, why should you compare yourself to someone who grew up traveling and learning many languages? Keep your head down and stay on track. Set your own goals and figure out what the best methods are for you to reach them. Don't worry about how well other people speak English. Worry about your own level.



3) The tortoise uses momentum not adrenaline


At the beginning of the race, the tortoise doesn't expect to win. He simply says, "I'm going to do the best that I can." He builds confidence during the race by looking at how far he has come, not by how far he has left to go.


  • build momentum with your English, climbing a mountainHow to be like the tortoise:  Studying English on adrenaline, caffeine and memorization might have worked during your school days when you prepared for an exam. However, if are you looking to build a real, lifelong skill, you should absorb the language slowly and measure your progress on a regular basis. Build up momentum and energy through tiny successes and use that energy to consistently strive for more difficult goals.




4) The tortoise can handle embarrassment and shame


The tortoise knows that people think he is slow and sluggish but he doesn't seem to care. He is willing to stick his neck out and risk looking foolish for the chance to win. He is willing to try.


  • shame and embarrassment english language learningHow to be like the tortoise: If you aren't willing to make mistakes, your success in English will be limited. Learning is all about mistakes. Learning IS making mistakes. When you make mistakes, people will laugh at you. You will look like a fool. You will feel a sense of shame, especially if you are a natural communicator in your native language. That's okay. Get used to it. Embrace it. Learn to have compassion for yourself and keep moving forward.




5) The tortoise has nothing to lose


Why did the tortoise accept the challenge to race against the hare? Well, why not? He had nothing to lose. Everyone in the town knew he was slow. They couldn't imagine that he would actually win the race.


  • nothing to loseHow to be like the tortoise: What is the worst thing that can happen if you don't reach your goals in English? How bad could it really be? When you learn a new language, you have nothing to lose and you have everything to gain. Operate from that perspective and it will change the way you learn. Look at the English language with a sense of curiosity. Be a language detective.



So, when it comes to learning English, are you more like the hare or more like the tortoise? I would like to challenge you to be more like the tortoise. Try some of the tips above for the next few months and see what happens.

Remember, slow and steady wins the English learning race! Click here to tweet this phrase if you agree.

Good luck!



Speak English with Confidence NOW



Photo credits: mbshane,   Snowfalkesarewhite,    earthkath,   JohnFinnMrTopf, montuschi, tortoise and hare photo is a screenshot from video above

Topics: Advice for English Students, How to Learn English

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