This is a Vietnamese proverb:

If you put in the work to sharpen the steel, it will eventually turn into needles.

It means that no matter how difficult the goal (like a long-term mission) is, if you are patient and keep implementing it, one day you will achieve your goal.

For example, learning to speak English like a native is very very hard for me, but if I am patient and keep practicing it, one day I can achieve my goal.

Do you have a similar proverb in English?

Does "Practice makes perfect" express the above meaning?

  • Vince Lombardi is said to have said Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.
    – choster
    Aug 5, 2015 at 1:08
  • you means "Many a little makes a mickle"
    – Tom
    Aug 5, 2015 at 3:30
  • You (learn English) the same way you get to Carnegie Hall: Practice, Practice, Practice.
    – VampDuc
    Aug 5, 2015 at 17:20
  • 1
    Related, but not an exact answer: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." Meaning: don't be afraid to begin with the basics, or: you have to start somewhere.
    – Wolfie Inu
    Nov 3, 2015 at 7:55

2 Answers 2


Martin Manser, The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs (2002) offers two English sayings that are somewhat similar to the OP's in their view of the value of persistence:

constant dropping wears away a stone It is often possible to achieve a major purpose—for example, persuading people or breaking down their resistance—by a series of small but persistent actions or remarks: ... The proverb was first recorded in the 13th century, with different wording, but the sentiment it expresses is of ancient origin. Tibullus (c. 48–19 B.C.) "longa dies molli saxa peredit aqua {length of time eats away stones with soft water}."


little strokes fell great oaks Great things can be achieved in small stages, or with persistent effort: ...The proverb is probably of ancient origin; in his Adagia (1500) the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus quotes the Latinproverb "Multis ictibus deiicitur quercus {The oak is felled by many blows}."It also occurs in Shakespeare's play Henry VI, Part 3 (2:1): "And many strokes, though with a little axe,/Hews down and fells the hardest-timber'd oak."

The saying "Practice makes perfect" applies to persistence in developing mastery of some skill or task—which fits the situation of painstakingly gaining command of English—but it doesn't focus on persistence in working away at a task that is dauntingly large or otherwise difficult, and that doesn't show any meaningful progress after a even a fairly protracted amount of time dedicated to the task, as in the instance of sharpening steel into needles. For that scenario, I think, the two proverbs quoted in my answer are more suitable.

  • 1
    Little strokes fell great oaks has the advantage of implying intention and effort toward a specific goal. +1
    – Conrado
    May 3, 2020 at 4:09

The equivalent I have heard refers to water, I will edit this once I find the exact quote but it is approximately this:

it is not through force but persistence that a drop of water carves the Grand Canyon

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