In language learning, like in everything else, it gets much better when you implement the right systems so that you can obtain the best results. I won’t deny that it’s a learning curve, and practice will teach you which systems to stick with. Nevertheless, here are seven mistakes most language learners do, and these are the stumbling blocks in their pathway to success.
- Thinking that you can learn a language in three months.
I have to confess that it is possible to reach a quite good level at your target language in this period, but to master your second tongue, you need to invest serious time to reach such level of fluency. I’m sorry to disappoint you but one hour lesson a week won’t be enough. You might be attending a college course once a week and re-visit your language book just a few hours before the next session, just in time to quickly scribble down the exercise the teacher recommended. If you are truly motivated to learn this new language, this is not the way to go. You should be resolute and find the way to efficiently learn it.
If you want to be conversational, you need a daily practice. You should organise your day and block out some time for your planned language activity.
- Not incorporating your target language in your daily life.
As mentioned before, you should plan your daily language practice around all the other activities in your life. Remember that you do not need to block out two to three hours each time, studying long period of time can even be counterproductive. It is much better to dedicate 15-20 minutes each day to a language activity and reap the benefits. We retrieve better memories if we use spaced-repetition and periods of rest. This is the way to go if you want to optimise your study.
- Shying away from talking
Language learners usually think that they must know all the words in a dictionary and master all the grammar rules before they can start having a conversation in their target language. Wrong.
If you wait for when you feel you’re ready, you will never start. My business mentor always says, “start before you’re ready” and she’s darn right. I tell you the same. Start using the acquired knowledge and don’t shy away from conversations. They will obviously be basic at the beginning, but as you get more knowledgeable, they will improve as well. Besides, speaking will be a perfect motivator for you to learn more, because you will find practicality.
- Not taking advantage of your learning strengths.
Each of us learn differently, and this is perfectly acceptable. Some of us are visual, some need to write the concepts down in order to memorise them, some others find audio very helpful.
You should identify which category you belong to and choose learning materials that are suited to your needs. If you are more of the visual type, you should maybe go for an online course. If you like writing down concepts, maybe a college course or a language book would be more suitable. Assess what works for you.
- Not having long-term and short-term goals.
I have written extensively about the importance of goal-setting in language learning. These allow you to focus. Long-term goals give you direction, for example: “I want to be fluent in Italian by July 2019 because I’m moving to the country." As you can see this goal is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound). Working towards a deadline keeps you focus.
You should also have short-term goals (or mini-goals). These are like the steps on the ladder to success. They are the tasks that will keep you on track and will boost your motivation to carry on as you tick them off. They will give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Not paying attention to the culture.
Learning a language is not just learning how to express your thoughts or write or listening to songs. It is much more than this. It opens a door to a new way to view the world around you from someone else’s perspective. You should be interested in the culture of the people speaking your target language. Learn the language spoken in the streets of that country, not only what is taught in a language course. Learn phrases and expressions and, when possible, pay attention to the natives and find out in which context these expressions are used. Scrutinise gestures, intonations, filler words used as well as the slang. Take notes. All these define the people as a group and tell about their collective knowledge. When you start using them with the natives, it means to them that you are embracing their culture, that you are bonding with them. They start seeing you as one of their own and the other way around applies as well and this is called integration.
- Not using the right methods to optimise your learning.
The traditional method of grammar-translation and endless memorisation of vocabulary is obsolete and inefficient. You most probably followed this same method when you were at school studying a foreign language. Do you speak this language thanks to these classes? I’m sure your answer is “hell no”. so why should you carry on doing the same things if you know well that you’ll obtain the same results?
When looking for a course, either at college or online, and even when buying a self-study book, look for the communicative way of teaching. It emphasises interaction and the practice of the language you’re learning in different natural context. The goal of communicative language teaching is being able to communicate in the target language, as the name suggests. Verbal skills is the aim.
It’s always good to belong to language forums, Facebook groups, where they keep the motivation going. You can ask for advice from more experienced learners, as well. They can guide you in so many ways.
Don’t waste too much time on language Apps. See them as a complement to your study. Instead create and find opportunities to practice what you’re learning.
If you want to master a language remember to keep motivated, plan your journey, be constant, persistent and most of all don’t stop.
What are other mistakes you can think about? Please leave a comment.