When Practice Doesn’t Make Sense

by David · 5 comments

We’re all familiar with the expression ‘Practice makes perfect’ this makes sense, right? Well, what If I were to say I disagree? You would probably look at me funny and ask why. Here are my reasons.

Firstly, I understand that we are talking about an expression, and that expressions aren’t supposed to be taken literally, however I believe that many people do exactly that, take them literally. We would only need to take a look at a few examples to support this claim, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Let’s use my current areas of focus as examples, you’re going to have you use your imagination. I would ask you to close your eyes, but, erm…. you need to read… let’s begin

Story Time

You’ve inherited a small fortune, and you’ve decide to book a plane ticket to Japan, because of current commitments you decide to book the flight for the ending of the year. This isn’t a problem because now you have eight months to learn enough Japanese to get by. You order yourself a few dozen books and begin to study. You become fascinated with the Japanese writing system and then spend a great deal of time learning to read and write.




You work extremely hard to learn as many useful phrases as possible from a plethora of textbooks. After a few months you are able to, book a hotel room, ask for directions, order food and speak about your life back home. Your ready to go!

You arrive in Japan *excited*, you can’t wait to see the country and flex your language muscles.

Bad News

You can’t understand anyone, but worse of all, no one understands you. How could this possibly happen? You spent eight months preparing. What went wrong?

When Practice Doesn’t Make Sense

Could you spot what went wrong in this story? if you can’t, read on. If you can, read on, you’ve made it this far, why not?


Sure, there was a lot of study (practice) going on in this story, but clearly not the right sort. There was neither enough (or any) listening or speaking practice in the learners schedule. If you don’t practice the required skill you won’t make progress, simple as that.That’s todays lesson, but lets expand a little…

When dealing with something as multifaceted as language, it’s easy to not pay attention to all of its components. It’s ok to neglect different components, but you have to make sure your activities are in line with your goals. This may sound like common sense, and perhaps it is, but when I started learning Spanish I spent all of my time reading. When I bumped into Spanish speakers I froze. I wasn’t prepared, although I had been preparing (sad face). Don’t make the same mistake (be better).This principal is applicable to any and every skill. That’s right, ANY and EVERY. I guess you need some more persuasion? Which skill involved with driving a car can you neglect? Steering? Reversing? Parking? If you’re in your right mind you would have answered, none. Language may not be a car but if you ignore a needed component you will crash.

So as you can see, sometime practice doesn’t make sense.

I dare re-render the expression we’re all so familiar with….

“Practice doesn’t make perfect, but practicing the right things makes perfect sense”



  • It’s not that the practice was wrong, but that it was the wrong kind of practice. 🙂

    • I think you missed where I re-rendered the expression

      “Practice doesn’t make perfect, but practicing the right things makes perfect sense”

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  • David, you’ve clearly expressed something that every language learner needs to keep in mind during any sort of study.

    I think we’re all guilty of this when we first start trying to learn a 2nd language. Part of it is that some aspects of foreign languages are a lot easier to access than others. While I can read as many French news articles as I want online, it’s harder to find real examples of French speakers describing their health problems to a doctor, for example. So people tend to go with the easier, more-accessible form of study.

    On the bright side, I do think that there’s some bleed-over. So while you weren’t able to understand Spanish speakers after all of your book practice, I’m sure you put yourself a few days or weeks ahead of where you would have been if you’d just shown up with no study whatsoever.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for contributing 🙂

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