Die Vortragende richtet ihren Blick auf die Studierenden im Seminar.

What marathon training and language learning have in common

I am an avid language learner and have tried multiple ways of language learning.  I also like to run and a couple of years ago I started to train for my first marathon. And it was amazing for me how much the training resembled successful strategies in language learning. So I gathered my top 7 tips for language learners (and runners) in this blog entry:


Learning a language requires constant training just as running. Even if some apps tell us we can learn when, how and even what we want - that is not true: Routines help our mind a lot when learning (same goes for our body when training). If you dedicate three times a week two hours to language learning instead of six hours once a week your improvement will be faster. Good language learning apps therefore always encourage you to make a schedule for your sessions and also send reminders. A language course usually takes place at regular times and in order to follow you need to assist regularly.

It’s up to you

Even with the best trainer in the world you won’t be able to run a marathon if you do not train yourself. The same goes for language learning: Your teacher cannot learn new words for you – some tasks you have to do on your own. Besides preparing for lessons with a teacher, that is: learn new words (with example and correct article), repeat the grammar and try to use the stuff learnt in class in every day life. A good teacher will show you ways how to do all that and provide valuable input during class.

Make a plan

Before starting to learn a language you should identify your objectives: Do you want to be able to just communicate during holidays or do you plan to study or work in your target country? This is step 1.  

For step 2 ask yourself: What skills are you going to need (at which level)? Which percentage of writing, speaking, listening, reading? Do you need to communicate without mistakes? Is authentic pronunciation one of your goals?

Step 3: Which means can take you there – tandem learning, learning with an app, a language course, a stay abroad or just watching series in your target language? Usually it is a combination of different means. Look at the pros and cons and decide.

Step 4: Check your resources (timewise, financially) and decide how you are going to spend them. Try to draw a path to you goals.

It takes time

Learning a language is not something that happens overnight, not even for language genius. Just think of children and how long it takes them to learn their own mother tongue. Try to be patient and enjoy every bit of progress. It’s impossible to run a marathon (at least in a decent time) without having run several hundreds of kilometres. In order to speak a language fluently you will need even more time, probably years.

Try different learning strategies

Have you ever heard of Fartlek, HIIT, base endurance or intervals? These are different types of training and usually a marathon training plan combines many of these elements. For language learning it is a good idea to try different strategies and see which ones work for you. Usually you can see different methods and strategies in a language course – different types of interaction, of exercises etc.

There is always room for improvement

In running there is usually no such thing as a perfect race – and it’s virtually impossible to speak or write a language perfectly. Languages are evolving constantly and as non-native-speakers we will never be able to reach perfection. The good thing about this is that we always have room for improvement. But as with running – getting from a marathon time from 3:05 to 2:59 takes a lot mor time than getting from 4:30 to 3:59. Same goes for languages: The effort to imrove from level C1 to C2 is huge, whereas getting from A1 to A2 takes less effort.

Practice, practice, practice

Use every chance to show your language skills. With constant practice you will improve or at least maintain your skills even without formal learning time like language course.

By Norbert Conti