Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Long Slow Runs and Language Learning

by AJ

The cornerstone of my first marathon training program was the "long slow run". As I've mentioned before, slowing down was the key change that transformed me from someone who hated to run, to an avid runner and marathoner.

Slow running is especially important for beginners. Most people run too fast and too far when they begin a program. They think they must pour sweat and pant like a dog, or else they aren't accomplishing anything. New wanna-be runners are often obsessed with distance too. "Farther and faster"... that's their motto.

That attitude may work for veteran runners, but it is extremely harmful for beginners. Beginners who start this way quickly learn to associate running with pain. For them, running is a struggle. Every run requires great willpower. Progress is never fast enough. These folks are constantly frustrated. Most quit after one or two months (or weeks!).

Runners who run slowly do much better. They learn to enjoy the act itself. They don't worry about speed and they don't worry about distance. They just get out there and listen to their bodies. They take it easy. And yet, with each run, they build their muscles, lungs, heart, and mind to handle more. Without pushing, they begin to run faster and run farther.

The more I examine my own foreign language experiences and those of my students, the more similarities I see between runners and language learners.

Most students & teachers are likewise obsessed with speed and quantity. They race through textbooks as fast as possible. They try to study as many grammar points and as much vocabulary as they can fit into a semester. Underlying these behaviors is an attitude that says, "more is better".

But that is not necessarily the case. For beginning and intermediate students, quality is often more important than amount. In other words, its better to go slower and truly acquire the language. This means shorter passages. This means MUCH more repetition. This means thoroughly absorbing authentic content.

Just as importantly, it means relaxing and enjoying the process. By following a slower, more repetitive, deeper, and more relaxed approach, you will build your English ability without pushing. You'll truly acquire the language and be able to use it without translating back and forth between English and your native language.


Rather than cover 50 pages in a month, cover only 5... and learn them thoroughly. Read them every day. Listen to the audio repeatedly, every day. Practice imitating the phrases. Thoroughly and totally absorb the content.

Eventually, of course, you will be able to do more. Once I finished my first marathon, I was strong, I was used to running, and I was ready to focus on more speed. But I needed a good base first.

So too with language learning. Build a good base first-- a solid foundation of listening & reading comprehension.

San Francisco, CA