Deliberate practice

Deliberate practicePractice makes perfect.

These simple words, so ubiquitous and readily accepted that you’ve probably never given them much thought, only tell part of the story. Yes, practice is vital, whether you’re learning to speak French, play the guitar, or parallel park – but there’s more to it than that. It’s not just practice you need, but rather, according to Anders Ericsson, deliberate practice.[1]

If you have an hour a day to spend doing something with your French, that’s fantastic. But you can’t just skim a newspaper article or conjugate a few verbs and call that practice, at least not every day – it’s too easy. Sure, it’s better than not doing anything, but what you really need is deliberate practice which, Ericsson declares, “requires effort and is not inherently enjoyable.” You have to focus on your weaknesses and work tirelessly to eliminate them.

A study of piano majors at The University of Texas at San Antonio[2] concurs:

Results indicated no significant relationship between the rankings of pianists’ retention test performances and … practice time, number of total practice trials, and number of complete practice trials…. [S]trategies employed during practice were more determinative of performance quality at retention than was how much or how long the pianists practiced.

So it’s not how much you practice, but how you practice that matters most. According to Ericsson, even “natural talent” is irrelevant:

We agree that expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance and even that expert performers have characteristics and abilities that are qualitatively different from or at least outside the range of those of normal adults. However, we deny that these differences are immutable, that is, due to innate talent. Only a few exceptions, most notably height, are genetically prescribed. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.

What is deliberate practice?

Ericsson’s paper is packed with detail, but deliberate practice can be distilled into four components:

  1. Motivation / intention / effort
  2. Current skill level / knowledge as foundation
  3. Immediate, focused feedback
  4. Repetition

These four aspects combined will make your practice much more effective. Challenge yourself, focus on weak areas and practice, practice, practice. Get focused feedback from an expert, and rinse and repeat until you’ve eliminated each mistake and you can move on to new material.

Deliberate practice in language learning

While there are no studies about deliberate practice specifically in regard to language acquisition, its effectiveness in domains as varied as piano playing[2], chess[3], and medicine[4] would seem to indicate wide applicability of this learning technique.

So if you’re learning French, you’re in luck, because this is exactly how Kwiziq works. Our A.I., affectionately referred to as KwizBot, analyzes your current knowledge to create a baseline and a personalized StudyPlan. As you work your way through lessons, you take kwizzes to demonstrate your understanding of the material and get immediate corrections. When KwizBot determines a satisfactory level of confidence in a topic, he updates your StudyPlan so that you’re always working on cementing your current knowledge, filling in gaps, and learning new material. Sound interesting? Log in or create an account and do some deliberate French practice!


1 K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, Clemens Tesch-romer (1993). “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.” Psychological Review, 363-406.

2 Robert A. Duke, Amy L. Simmons, Carla Davis Cash (2009). “It’s Not How Much; It’s How – Characteristics of Practice Behavior and Retention of Performance Skills.” Journal of Research in Music Education, vol. 56 no. 4, 310-321.

3 Neil Charness, Michael Tuffiash, Ralf Krampe, Eyal Reingold, Ekaterina Vasyukova (2005). “The Role of Deliberate Practice in Chess Expertise.” Applied Cognitive Psychology, Special Issue: Recent Advances in Expertise Research, vol. 19, issue 2, 151–165.

4 K. Anders Ericsson (2004). “Deliberate Practice and the Acquisition and Maintenance of Expert Performance in Medicine and Related Domains.” Academic Medicine, vol. 79, issue 10, S70-S81.

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Author info

Laura K Lawless

Laura is Kwiziq's Language and Marketing Coordinator. Online educator since '99, Laura is passionate about language, travel, and cooking. She's American by birth and a permanent ex-pat by choice - freelancing made it possible for her to travel extensively and live in several countries before settling permanently in Guadeloupe. Laura is the author of Lawless French, Lawless Spanish, and other websites and books on French, Spanish, English, and vegetarianism. She spends most of her spare time reading, playing with food, and enjoying water sports.

Comments: 4


13 May 2016

I practice French everyday but I can't understand the spoken word without the text. 'Ubiquitous', that's an interesting word. I imagine the French say it different.


28 September 2016

This is very timely advice for me! Thanks for the interesting article and thanks too for the references; there's lots to follow up there and to take with me into other areas of my life.

Joakim Rosqvist

10 January 2017

1 replies

Nice to know that quality matters more than quantity.
When trying to do the weekly writing challenges here, I often feel a lack of "immediate focused feedback" when it comes to figuring out why a particular sentence should be written using passé composé rather than l'imparfait or vice versa.

Gruff Davies

23 January 2017

We're working a much improved version of the writing challenges that will hopefully give more specific feedback. Thanks for the input!

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