If you truly want to succeed at mastering a language, teach it.

“How come? -you might say - if I am just a student”. Well, I and all the studies in Applied Cognitive Psychology, tell you that it can be done successfully.

It has been demonstrated in many studies that spending time teaching what you learn will give you a better understanding of what you have studied and increase your retention. It is much more effective than when you re-study the topic.

This is due to a psychological phenomenon called the protégé effect “whereby teaching, pretending to teach or preparing to teach others helps the person learn the information”.

It is shown that the protégé effect not only works for academic subjects, but also when teaching a new skill to someone else, or at work when explaining important procedures to new recruits or when explaining general concepts to somebody. This helps you master the skills better, remember these procedures, or improve your understanding of the concepts you are explaining.

The protégé effect also works when explaining important procedures to new recruits

How does learning-by-teaching help you?

You learn better because different mechanisms are involved when we learn for ourselves compared to when we learn expecting to share the information with someone else.

It helps you to be more aware of your learning process. (Metacognitive processes)

You learn to organise the material and finding key pieces of information (effective learning strategies).

You make more effort in learning when expected to share the newly acquired knowledge (higher motivation).

You have a better appreciation of yourself when feeling competent and able to help others.

Benefits of teaching

In a study published in April 2018 by Aloysius Wei Lun Koh. He recruited 124 students and asked them to spend 10 minutes studying a text about a topic they did not know, with a view to teaching the material themselves afterwards. The students were divided later in four groups; in group 1 participants were filmed alone while they delivered a lesson on the study material without notes.Group 2 spent the time completing multiplication arithmetic; group 3 taught using a script, group 4 spent the time writing down all they could remember.

A week later all participants had a surprise test about their knowledge of the material studied. They found out that Group 1-the group who taught without note – and group 4 -the group who spent time writing down the information- outperformed group 2 and 3.

The researchers concluded that the benefits of learning by teaching works when the person must retrieve the material from their memory. This study shows that you do not need to interact with someone else to reap the benefits of learning by teaching.

Teaching or expecting to teach others, facilitates your own ability to learn the material. It also improves your communication skills as well as your confidence and leadership ability.

When expecting to teach, your motivation to learn the material grows.

The benefits of learning by teaching happen when the person must retrieve the material from memory

How to take advantage of these findings

It will not be possible for everyone to find someone to teach the language, but here is some good news. You do not need a student to take advantage of it.

1- First, learn the material as if you’re going to teach it to others, and follow these steps.

When studying, make a mental note that you will have to explain this topic to someone.

Then, memorise the information in the knowledge that it will be shared.

Anticipate likely questions people might ask you on the topic.

Take all the necessary notes but bear in mind that you will not have access to them when teaching.

2- Pretend that you’re teaching the material to someone.

Later record yourself explaining to a pretend student all the information and answering all their questions.

3- Teach the material to others in real life.

If you enjoy teaching others, you might want to teach the language to a friend who is an absolute beginner, or your spouse or children. If you are learning the language in a group class, you might want to meet with your peers and explain to them a grammar section that they find difficult to understand. You can even take turns and convert this into a regular extra curricular group activity. I know that it will take more effort, but you will get the greatest benefits from it.

Teaching or expecting to teach others improve your confidence and your leadership ability


* Learning by teaching is backed up by science and it is proven that it helps learn an information better.

* It improves your learning by enhancing your awareness of how to learn (metacognitive process), increasing effective learning strategies, motivation to learn and the sense of competence and autonomy.

* Teaching others leads to improve communication skills, confidence, and leadership ability.

* You can learn the material as though you re going to teach it, and you will see that your recollection of the data will be much better than if you studied it for yourself.

Have you tried this before? Let me know in the comments.