The Language Learning Loop isn’t a method, it’s the process that every language learning goes through when learning a language. Kazen mode is central to the other modes–input mode, practice mode and live mode–in the Language Learning Loop. But what is kaizen and how does it relate to language learning?
Kaizen, not just for making cars.
It took me a long time to come up with a name for the fourth mode: kaizen. I thought of calling it planning mode, feedback mode, or maintenance mode, but they all seemed too narrow. Kaizen, a Japanese word that means to improve or improvement (改善 gai3 shan4 in Chinese), seems to fit the concept I’m trying to express more closely. In language learning, self assessment is an important part of kaizen. In theory, feedback can come from others, but sooner or later, you’re going to have to start diagnosing your own issues.
The concept of Kaizen was popularized by the “Toyota Way”, and it’s been transplanted to everything from management to startups. (via Wikipedia).
Kaizen makes you ask questions
Two questions are key to this mode: What do I need to work on? and How can I study more effectively? If you’re not asking yourself and your these questions regularly, then you’ll start hitting a peak sooner than you think.
What do I need to work on?
More people need to ask this question. You can figure out the answer to this question by asking a few more questions: What mistakes are you making? What areas are you weakest? Answer these questions and you’ll know what you should be studying. The key point to remember here is to embrace your mistakes. It’s ok to make mistakes,as long as you’re doing something to fix them, too.
How can I study more effectively?
Of course, knowing what you need to study is only half the battle. Answering the question above is the other half. Here are some questions you might ask help out: Is there a tool/method that would help me study more quickly (or efficiently)? Are there any materials that will keep learning interesting (and fresh)? Make sure you keep things fun. Having the best methods in the world won’t matter if you don’t use them.
Why it matters
It’s important because kaizen needs to be part of your language learning process. I put kaizen at the center of the Language Learning Loop for two reasons. First, continous improvements, finding new methods, and correcting mistakes is essential to learning a language well. I’ve said it before: what works when you’re a beginner doesn’t work when you’re more advanced. Second, unlike the other modes, kaizen isn’t something that you necessarily do on a daily or even weekly basis. You don’t do go into kaizen mode after practice mode, and you don’t have to try and improve your input methods every time you need to add words to a vocab list. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
Some people skip this step all together, preferring to just go out and learn. While that might work for the short term, it will eventually limit your progress. But you should also avoid the other extreme: planning paralysis. Lots of learners make the mistake of spending more time thinking about what books or methods to use instead of actually studying or using the language. Balance is key. I’ve found the most successful language learners have a balance between planning and implementing their approach.