Practice Makes Permanent

Practice Makes Permanent

I have some wonderful news…we’re made to learn. In fact, learning is the most natural thing for humans to do. Whether it’s learning to solve a math problem or learning to speak a foreign language, learning is to humans like flying is to birds.

After many years of studying the learning process, the most concise and easy to understand explanation I’ve found is described in How Your Brain Learns and Remembers, by Diana Hestwood and Linda Russell.

In layperson’s terms:

  • Brains are made up of, among other things, neurons
  • When we start to learn how to do something new, neurons begin to grow long tendrilly looking fibers called dendrites
  • When two dendrites grow close to one another, they create a contact point at a small juncture called a synapse
  • Dendrites send messages (in this case, how to do the new activity) by way of electrical signals that travel across the synapse. Learning has begun!
  • When you practice something, synapses become wider and it gets easier and easier for messages to travel from one dendrite to another and, de facto, from one neuron to another
  • Also with practice, the dendrites grow thicker. The thicker the dendrites, the faster signals travels to the dendrites’ host neurons.
  • With enough practice, the dendrites build a double connection. These double connections ensure the messages (the newly acquired skill) move from short term-memory to long-term acquisition
  • Voila! You’ve solidly learned how to do something new.

Of all the things we humans are capable of learning, speaking another language is right up there on the “Yep…got that one handled” list. Even for adults. (This is, of course, providing we’re immersed in that language.) The accent of that language, however, isn’t typically acquired without some degree of effort. As anyone who’s studied a foreign language in college can attest to, learning the accent of a second language takes, you guessed it, practice.

How much practice? With the right methodology and learning material, it only takes about fifteen mins/day, five days/week, over the course of approximately twelve weeks for new pronunciation techniques to become second nature. In other words, practice makes permanent! For people who’d like to communicate seamlessly in another language, our innate ability to learn makes excelling at the task not only possible, but almost a sure thing.