Type JournalArticle
Date 1994-11
Volume 22
Number 4
Tags language learning, learner diary
Journal System
Pages 441--454

The Lone Language Learner: A Diary Study

More importantly, there are signs (Jones, in progress) that successful self-study learners have sophisticated strategies to overcome the deficiencies of their course packages and of the self- study method in general. To begin with, they are likely to use not one, but several packages at the same time (e.g. a BBC course for “realistic” functional-language input and skills practice, plus an old school primer for grammar work). Many obtain comprehensible input from extensive reading, videos, etc.: and many have techniques for obtaining interactive speaking practice and feedback, such as forming “study buddy” groups of fellow learners (cf. Dickinson, 1987), contacting expatriate FL speakers (e.g. via Spanish restaurants or German churches), or using family and friends as advisors. In other words, if we are to find the key to success in self-study, we should perhaps be looking not so much at the materials as at the learners.

Brown and Perry (1991) report that a combination of visual-acoustic and semantic processing strategies appears most effective in vocabulary learning; arguably, learning by etymological metaphor unites both processing types.

Nevertheless, I soon felt that a complete switch from cognitive to naturalistic methods risked stagnation of my underlying knowledge base-a danger mentioned by Dodson (1986) and other authors in connection with (classroom) immersion methods.


This article, based on a learner diary, analyses an adult's self-study of Hungarian over a period of 11 months. Despite the complexity of Hungarian grammar, lexis was rated as the major learning priority. Personalized, real-message practice tasks appeared vital, not only for input to become automatized, but also in motivation terms. In terms of real-life performance, a lack of speaking practice was less problematic than a lack of listening practice. Learning strategies changed with increasing proficiency—not incrementally, but in terms of radical paradigm shifts. The crossing of two linguistic thresholds appeared crucial here—the gaining of a large enough stock of word-roots to enable many compound lexical items to be guessed, and the ability to read authentic texts. Below these thresholds, strategies were mainly studial and coursebook-centred; above, comprehensible-input and autonomous strategies played a major role, though comprehensible input appeared inefficient without the backup of studial strategies.

Name Role
Francis R. Jones Author