The science and the alchemy of learning

What is a secret of successful language learning? It’s a combination of science and alchemy – an almost magical mixture of motivation, good habits and some tricks.

Motivation is important because it pushes the learning up your agenda. This is what makes you choose to spend time on studying rather than watching a film or going out. Motivation allows you to focus on learning, but on its own motivation will not guarantee success.  While it is relatively easy to get motivated if you have a specific reason to learn a foreign language like Polish – getting a job in Poland, getting married, looking for family roots, visiting family or friends, travelling or doing business, it is much harder to get motivated if you just would like to learn a foreign language for the fun of it. Perhaps you need to look at learning a language from a different perspective – as an add-on benefit to your other interests.  If you happen to be interested in military history, you are probably interested in Polish husaria (‘winged hussars’) – simply because they were one of the most successful fighting units ever.  If you like music by Chopin, you may want to learn more about his life and the cultural context of his creativity – the Polish landscape, traditions and Polish folk music.  Learning Polish will enrich your experience and expand your horizons.

Good habits allow you to translate motivation and good intentions into action. There are some basic rules which will allow you to form good habits of learning:

  • Study little and often.
  • Revise regularly
  • Have a dedicated space to study – your own ‘temple of learning’ where you can be comfortable, undisturbed and free from distractions.
  • Turn exercises into games.
  • Learning does not necessarily means swatting over a text book – listening to Polish songs or radio stations or watching Polish films are all fantastic listening comprehension exercises.Stationery items

It is also very helpful to understand how we learn and apply this knowledge to your studies.

  • Research how the Von Restoff effect works and how it can help you to learn lists of new vocabulary (it correlates unique items in a list to better recall – in other words if you write every 5th word in a list of 20 words in a different colour or a different font, you are more likely to recall it better).
  • Find out why you should employ the “memory palace’ technique to recall a large amount of information.
  • Disseminate and simplify complex ideas into more digestible parts.
  • Create puzzles out of new words – here’s the one from the last blog post ‘hidden’ in the feature photograph – the combined symbols read: bez-oko-licznik (infinitive).
  • Create mind maps – they are one of the most effective ways to make associations and therefore help you to remember better.
  • Visualize – imagine yourself speaking Polish fluently and confidently. Imagine visiting interesting places in Poland. Imagine yourself as an expert of all matters Polish. It will prepare you well for the real trip.
  • Create your own collection of Polish words, postcards, images, drawings, interesting facts, lyrics, poems, quotations, articles, book titles, recipes. You can arrange the items in an index card box or a shoe box. If possible, utilize social networking or online resources.
  • Find a flat space (e.g. a cork board) where you can display the words, phrases or grammatical concepts you are currently learning; or inspirational images from Poland.

Index Box








We will explore these and other useful learning techniques in future posts on this blog. 

The most beautiful thing in the world is, precisely, the conjunction of learning and inspiration. Oh, the passion for research and the joy of discovery!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Wanda Landowska

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