The 10 Commandments for Language Learning

What makes for good language learning?  What are the strategies and techniques that will aid our students in their language journey?  Language teachers sometimes need to refresh
our perspectives and remember what it was like to actually learn the language from square one.  Do you remember?  Do you remember the anxiety of being called upon when you were unsure of your pronunciation?  Do you remember not knowing what the teacher was saying in the target language and feeling overwhelmed?  Brush away those cobwebs, and it just might help you connect more with your students.  Here are 10 language learner commandments adapted from the list that H. Douglas Brown offers in his book entitled Principles of Language Learning and Teaching.  I hope that they re-open your eyes as much as they did mine!

Commandment #1:  Do not fear
As teachers, we should strive to lower our students’ inhibitions.  Most will come to the classroom with raised inhibitions and fears that will prevent them from taking the necessary risks that must be taken in order to try out and test the new language.  How can we do this?  Incorporate guessing games, communication games, role plays, skits and songs!  Use group work as they will feel more comfortable speaking in the TL with each other as opposed to being called on in front of the class.  Lastly, talk to them.  Explain that it’s normal to feel some anxiety with something new, and that it’s ok.  Help them to feel comfortable to come and talk to you when they feel this way.  Have a list of strategies that you can give them that will help them take ownership of their learning.  Laura Lee of Señora Lee: For the Love of Spanish has written about the Fear Factor in her blog and offers some great advice.  Check out her blog here:  http://www.senoralee.com/single-post/2017/03/02/Fear-Factor---Spanish-Edition

Commandment #2:  Take risks
We need to encourage risk taking in the language!  Praise students for their efforts to communicate in the language no matter how rudimentary it is.  Make sure to not correct every error in the classroom or students will lose their motivation to try.  Strive to only correct those errors that interfere with learning or understanding.  Give outside of class assignments to speak or write and test out the language in non-threatening ways. 

Commandment #3:  Believe in yourself
Build your students’ self-confidence.  TELL them that you believe in them.  TELL them that they have the ability to speak the language.  TELL them that they are making great strides.  TELL them that you are proud of them.  Many of our students simply do not get the praise they need from home… we need to be their cheerleaders and lift their spirits!  By the way… not only must we use verbal communication, but SMILE and be receptive in non-verbal ways as well.  Let the students themselves make inventories of what they have learned or accomplished so far in the course.  Many times, seeing where you’ve come from and where you’ve managed to go will do wonders for self-esteem.

Commandment #4:  Get motivated
Remind your students about the rewards for learning the language!  You can have them do a web quest and report back to the class on what they have learned.  Here is a great website to have your students investigate the many benefits of learning a language:  http://languagelearningfacts.com/  You can also tell them about the jobs in which the language will aide them, or have them investigate job postings on line that require a bilingual applicant.  Help them to see rewards beyond getting a good grade in the class or passing a requirement for graduation.  The Internet TESL journal offers some great insights into motivation in this article entitled “Motivation and Motivating in the Foreign Language Classroom”:  http://iteslj.org/Articles/Thanasoulas-Motivation.html

Commandment #5:  Love your neighbor
Promote cooperative learning in the classroom.  Students learn and retain information better when they share it with another.  Get the class to think of themselves as a team.  Have them do small group work as well as work in pairs.  Teach them, by being their role model, to cheer one another on in the target language.  Looking for ideas of how to get your students to bond?  Fellow SSS collaborator, Catharyn  Crane, talks about creating good vibes in Spanish class in her blog found here:  http://www.solazucar.com/2015/07/creating-good-vibes-in-spanish-class.html

Commandment #6:  See the big picture
Encourage your students to use right-brain processing.  Help them to get the big picture by using movies and audio in class.  Read in class, do skimming activities, do free writes such as a diary, and oral fluency exercises where you encourage speech without fear of correction.  Help them to see that communication and understanding is the goal… not perfect language.

Commandment #7:  Tolerate the unknown
Tolerance is a word used a lot in today’s world… it’s something that our students are very familiar with.  Use this to your advantage and teach tolerance in the classroom… for ambiguity.  Help them to understand that it’s ok to not understand every single word.  This is normal and that they can still understand the message.  Teach them strategies to figure out meaning from context and to ask for clarification in speech.  Keep explanations brief and don’t be scared to use English to briefly explain or clarify something that is conceptual and difficult to convey via the TL and comprehensible input.

Commandment #8:  Be intuitive
Teach students to use their intuition.  Praise them for good guesses.  Help them to see patterns in the language so that they can make educated guesses.  You do not always need to explain errors explicitly, but rather show examples of the pattern, so that the students themselves can figure out the problem.

Commandment #9:  Discover your mistakes
Do not always correct the mistakes made in class… let the students discover their own mistakes.  Ask the class if they see anything that needs to change.  Have them peer correct a writing assignment and give feedback to their classmates.  Have them make a list of their common errors and have them put the list in their notebooks to look at before turning in an assignment.

Commandment #10:  Set personal goals
Get your students to make goals for themselves beyond the classroom.  Try to get them to commit to a certain amount of time to devote to the language outside of class… whether through study, oral practice, written practice or reading.  There are so many options today for our students… Skype, Facebook, educational sites on the internet, etc.  Autonomous language learning ideas can be found in The Interent TESL Journal article entitiled “Motivation and Learner Autonomy:  Activities to Encourage Independent Study”:  http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Nowlan-Autonomy.html  You can even have them make a contract listing what they hope to accomplish each week.  Check in with them periodically to see how they are doing and give them rewards for their work… students LOVE extra credit! 

Are there any commandments that you think should be added?  Be sure to comment below!


Stain Glass Picture By Nheyob - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50667093



  1. Thank you Yona for sharing a wonderful set of ideas that are so important to bring to the Spanish classroom. I love that they also are really a set of best practice for life outside the classroom too! So appreciate the reminder at this point in the school year as we're energizing for this last stretch.

    1. Thanks Catharyn! Honestly, it was very enlightening to write and think about my own practice! I think little reminders help us to stay aware and in the moment... it's so easy to get bogged down with the everyday grind.


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