The principle of effect applied to learning a language

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The law of effect states that if the responses to an action produce a somehow pleasant or satisfying feeling we are more likely to repeat the same action in the future when we are in a similar context. In other words, actions that produce a pleasant effect in a specific context are more likely to occur again.


For example, If I am hungry I may look for a restaurant. If I decide to try a new restaurant for the first time and I am lucky enough to eat delicious food then it is obviously more likely that I will go back to this restaurant next time I will be in the same area and hungry. This happens because I created a positive association between eating in that restaurant and the feeling that this action produces (in this case taste). This is an example of the law of the effect that relates how we feel after taking a specific action to the likelihood to repeat the same action in the future.



The law of effect and learning

The law of effect has obvious implications for learning. We can use the principle behind the law of effect to condition ourselves to learn new things such as a language. All we have to do is to create a satisfying feeling linked to the action of learning our target language. This is what is also known as “positive reinforcement”.

An effective learner is often someone that has figured out ways to produce satisfying feelings from its learning experiences and that, because of this, has the motivation to consistently pursue its learning objective.


Learning strategies adapted to individual differences

The law of effect also explains why there is no such a thing as the best method to learn a language or anything else. Because we are all different we also respond differently to different situations and that is why we should look for learning strategies that fit us. In other words some of us may have a positive association with learning Italian if they are eating Italian food after or while studying the target language. But if you don’t like Italian food you should obviously think of another setting to learn Italian.

This is why for example I used improvisation theatre to learn German. This activity is just really funny for me and after every session I am very keen to learn more German.

This is also why if your learning strategy turns out to be boring or unpleasant you should change it before you build a long lasting negative association with your target language.


So when you are starting to learn a new skill try to think “how can I associate a positive feeling to this activity?”

Peter

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