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The Spirit of Insistence

The Spirit of Insistence

1. Introduction

“Wherever you are and whatever you do, language makes a difference!” (Rickerson & Hilton, 2012). As a English learner I must admit it is definitely true. I have acrossed aboard from China to United States learning English and American culture. Since my first language is Chinese which has nearly none connection with English; the path of learning second language is tough for me. By the opportunity I am studying in Dr. Helmer’s Writing 26 learning language class at University of California, Santa Cruz; a project require me to study proficiency language learners in order to figure out the better method for myself. Here come to my research question: RQ how do the best language learners learn their target language?

2. Research design and methodology

For the sake of how do the best language learners learn their target language. We had a class discussion about how we are going to find out the answer; what the best way is for this research. Eventually, I think we should just go ask some proficiency language learners. Thus we conducted semi-structured interviews. The first, we looked for people who has mastered in their second language and fortunately is we found eight participants; some of them are professors in UCSC and society linguists. Then we send them email asking if they would like to share their language learning experiences with us. Luckily, they are all willing to participate in our research.

2.1 Data collection and instruments

We have eight participants, so that we divided our class into eight groups of two. Before we conducted the interview, each of us came up with several interview questions. Then we combined it together, got rid of some unnecessary questions and created some meaningful questions based on SLA (Second Language Acquisition) theory.  My partner, David Qian, and I interviewed a Spanish professor, Stephanie Lain, who has highly interest in language learning field. Our interview took place in Peak Cafe bar located in J. Baskin Engineering building. And we recorded during the interview for the purpose of research accuracy. After interviews, each group summary their interview data and upload to our class folder on the Google drive.

We highlighted the most interesting thing for our interview and each group gave a presentation to the whole class. By sharing useful interview experiences and interesting ideas to help us understand more about how participants learn their target languages.

See appendix A for interview questions

2.2 Research context

Since more than half of our participants are professors at UCSC, so most of our interviews took place at their offices. However, some professors were using their part time to help us finish our research. For example, I interviewed Stephanie Lain at Peak Cafe bar, and other group interviewed through Skype.

2.3 Study participants

Almost every participant knows not only one language. Family reflections, personal interests, and the job requirements become the most reasons that influenced them to start learning other languages. Below in this table you will find relevant information about the participants.

Name First Language Target Language When did he/she learn
Mark Amengual Spanish English Kid
Natasha Russian English 6 Years Old
Maria Astua Spanish English 3.5 Years Old
Manel Camps Catalan Spanish 1-2 Years Old
Bryan Donaldson English French 14 Years Old
Jason English French 12 Years Old
Thor Swain English Germany 16 Years Old
Stephanie Lain English Spanish 21 Years Old

We interviewed Stephanie Lain. She is a forty-one years old, female, white and middle length of curly hair with kind smiles. She started to learn Spanish when she was twenty-one years old. That made her become special within eight participants, because she is the only one started to learn her target language over twenty years old. By contrast, she follows the “Nor is it a matter of youth: it’s too pessimistic to say that only children can learn languages. Modern Language Association insists ‘Never too early, never too late’” (Garrett, 2012).

2.4 Data analysis

After interviews, we held an interesting and controversial discussion in our classroom. Each group express their own opinions about their participant. Because we collected lots of informations, in order to we can easily find the most important and interesting information; we put characteristic of each participants on the board. Discussing their similarities and difference; coding their factors. Then we found that every groups mentioned motivation, for this reason, we started to analyze why does every participants talked about their motivation during the interview and why does every group thought this is interesting and useful for them.

3. Key findings and discussion

The Themes were Motivation, Literacy Background

3.1 Theme (Language for opening up the world)


Pinker (2009), states that communication is the core and major factor that motivates people to acquire new languages. Mark Amengua highlights communication as the primary reason he learned Spanish. Job opportunities may also influence one to study a new language. Natasha has to learn English apart from her native Russian to expound her job network. Interests serve as another primary reason for studying a new language. Maria, for her love of opera, is intrinsically motivated to learn Italian. For travel purposes, one can be interested in making new friends in the foreign place. Thor learns Germany to equip himself with relevancy if he is to make new acquaintances and friends in Germany. Still, German is important to him since it is the medium of communication he is to use in his visit to carry out routinely errands.

Language can make humans unique. As we start knowing more about language, we also start knowing more about our human race, nature, and a new thought. People want to learn a new language is not only how the language is easy or fun; it is all because people want to know the culture behind the language. As we learning more about a new language, more changing our thoughts is not avoidable. Therefore, language and culture are intertwined and cannot exist without each other. Like Stephanie Lain, she learned her target language since she was 21 years old. She did not want to learn Spanish before, because she grew up in Texas, people around her were all speak Spanish, so she want to be the special one. However, when she traveled to Europe, she can barely communicate with people around her. She felt it is important to know Spanish, then she can get to know the new cultures, communicate, and participate in the society. After all, she started like learning Spanish, which also inspired her learning other languages. For her, traveling and knowing a new culture serve as her primary reason for learning another new language.  Last but not least, Interest is also a major motivating factor for one to learn a new language. If one loves, say a particular country like France, then most likely he/she can be motivated to learn French (Pinker 2009).

3.2 Theme

How Academic literacy contributes to the foreign language.

If an individual has a high literacy in a language he/she is to learn, then the chances are that he/she may learn the new language quickly. The Contrast to the first statement is that one can take a longer period to study a new language if there is no connection with the language that the individual speaks. In this research, most of our participants’ target language all have some sort of connection with their first language. Some languages like Catalan and Spanish are so connected, so that learning them is much easier if one knows one of them already. The same is true for French and English since English borrows heavily from French, and so it is easy to learn (Prinker, 2009). But Natasha, in one particular case, was not helped by any of these language connections. According to Natasha’s answer, Russian have almost no connection with English. These two languages’ characters and grammar system are totally different.

As my personal view, Natasha’s situation are more like meself. Since Chinese and English are obviously two different language systems. Many linguists admit that, “In the U.S. Government schools, where languages are taught for real proficiency, even courses in ‘easy’ languages like French or Spanish require six hundred hours of full-time study, and getting to proficiency in the languages most difficult for English speakers-Chinese, japanese, Korean, and Arabic-takes twice as long” (Garrett, 2012). Thus, first language literacy background helps learning a foreign language that related to their first language. Just to conclude, one has a high literacy background in their first language can help them learn a similar language easier and faster. Also, one who has a strong literary background can help them acquire their target language in better method.

4. Conclusion

Compare to these proficiency language learners, they all have a spirit in their mind that insist on the journey to master a new language. Their interests helped them persist in learning their target language. For me, I think learning my target language is more likely finishing a work or a job. I don’t have the interest which they have in my target language now. Thus, I always want to give up. Based on the interview, I notice that I need to find my own motivation to inspire me to keep learning English. After my consideration, I rethink that my purpose for coming to the US is to be successful in business. Learning English well is the most important factor that will lead me to succeed in global business. No matter how different the Chinese and English are, I have the faith that I will master my English under a logical and scientific way of learning.

However, the spirit of insistence that these professors have is what I should admire. I know that give up halfway will never lead one person success. And to become a expert like them, hard working is the basic, but also I have to keep on learning English. My mom always says “first comes the bitterness, then there is sweetness and wealth and honor forever.” I think that is the spirit that I have to learn, because starting to learn a new language is easy, but learning this language well is hard. The bitterness I am eating now will bring me a bright future. I think the most important thing that I learn from the experts is to keep on doing what I am doing now, which is to master my English in college for future use. Like Albert Einstein once said “If A is success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut.” If I apply this quote to myself: A is success in learning English, then A equals x plus y plus z. Literacy background is x; y is motivation, and z is the spirit of insistence.

Appendix A

Interview Question:

1. What is your first language or languages?

2. What other languages do you speak?

3. How old were you when you learned each additional language?

(Follow up: Depending on their answer, see if they think age affected how they learned their languages.)

4. How does your first language connect linguistically with your target language or other languages?

(Follow up: Do you think this connection helped you in anyway? Do you think this LACK of connection made it difficult for you? How so?

5. What is your academic literacy background in your L1?

(Follow up: If you had strong literacy development in your L1, how do you think that helped your target language acquisition?)

6. Could you tell us about your motivation for learning your target language?

7. What language learning strategies did you use for learning other languages?

8. Based on your experience, how do you prefer to learn your target language? By yourself or learning with others?

9. Did you identify or not identify with your target language’s culture when you learned it?

10. Have you ever experienced any cognitive benefits because of your language learning processes?

11. Do you think it is easy for you to learn languages?

12.  Did you have any struggles learning your target language(s)?


Garrett, N. (2012). “What does it take to learn language well?”  In E.M Rickerson and Barry

Hilton(Eds.)   The 5-minute Linguist Equinox Publishing Ltd. Bristol,CT.

Katherine, S. (2012). “Can monolingualism be cured?” In E.M Rickerson and Barry

Hilton(Eds.)   The 5-minute Linguist Equinox Publishing Ltd. Bristol,CT.

Pinker, S. (2009). Language learnability and language development, with new commentary by

the author (Vol. 7). Harvard University Press.


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