6 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Learning a Language

Samantha Ruff
March 15, 2020 ·
7 min read
Grammar

Learning a second (or even third or fourth) language isn’t an easy thing to do: the sooner we acknowledge that is the case, and ignore the promises that we can pick up Spanish in a week (as some learning tools suggest), the easier it will be for everyone. In fact, that is probably the first, and most important mistake, to avoid in your language learning: it’s not going to happen in 5 minutes!

But what are the other mistakes that should be avoided at all costs? Let’s look at the most essential to recognize:

You will make mistakes (and you should embrace those mistakes)

How does a young child know not to touch something that is very hot? Usually by touching it, and finding out the hard way. In fact, scholars believe that long-term memory is shaped by those experiences that teach us something important to remember for future reference.

Learning anything, therefore, means making the mistake at first, and then seeking a solution from that mistake. Plus, if you have a fear of making mistakes and getting things wrong, then all it serves in doing is making you less likely to produce the language. You won’t speak because you are afraid. That has no benefit at all. So, speak! Make mistakes! And then learn from them!

Don’t try to speak like a native, or with a preferred accent

Listen to natives: that’s really important while you are learning. But wishing to speak like them is an unrealistic expectation, as you will probably retain an accent in that language for as long as you speak it. And that’s okay!

Often people say that they want to learn to speak English with an American, or British, accent, for example. But here’s the thing: even many Americans couldn’t speak English in a British accent, or vice versa. And it really doesn’t matter at all!

In fact, when you are learning a language, it’s good to get exposed to as many different accents as possible, which is incredibly helpful for your diversity of understanding.

When you speak the language, the most important thing to do is to speak clearly, and at a speed that is comfortable for both you and the person that is listening. And your accent is uniquely yours, so don’t be ashamed of it!

Don’t concentrate only on grammar, or only on vocabulary

Language is made up of many elements, so focusing too much only on one aspect is always a mistake to make. Grammar is important, but it is nothing without the vocabulary you need to express your ideas, and good pronunciation of those words so people understand you. Likewise, words are useful but must be used within the correct sentence structure to make any sense. Learning combinations of words in their correct grammatical forms is always a good approach.

And remember that there are four key skills involved in any language: speaking, listening, reading and writing. Try to give sufficient time to develop all of these four key skills to get to where you want to be in that language.

Not learning with materials that interest you

What is the purpose of language? It’s to communicate. But communicate what? Well, the answer to that is all of the thoughts and feelings that you have, and to then be able to talk about all the things that you need and want to talk about.

So, when learning a language, don’t spend time learning it in the context of topics and interactions that are relatively meaningless to you. “Is there a bank near here?’ How often are you going to need to say this, especially if you have GPS on your smartphone?!

Instead, learn the practical language, and learn with materials that are attached to your interests. Here are some simple examples:

·  Read articles about topics that you are interested in.

·  Watch the types of movies, TV shows and documentaries that you would normally watch in your own native language

·  Play video games, if video games are your thing, but in the target language, and interact with people online in that language

·  Watch sports, again if sports are your thing, but with the TV commentary in your target language.

·  If you love reading, read. If you don’t, then don’t!

·  Listen to music in the target language, reading and then singing along to the lyrics.

This is simple, practical advice. The point is, if something doesn’t interest you, then you lose the motivation to learn. And the motivation to learn is everything!

Share your experience

Don’t undertake the experience of learning a language alone. That means you need to share your experience with anyone you can find who a) has a similar objective b) is enthusiastic about your goal c) can help you.

Sharing means communicating (and asking for corrections), frequenting online forums to discuss the language with others who are doing the same as you, getting loved ones to help test you and challenge you, or anything else you can think of that involves other people.

Quite simply, don’t try to do this on your own!

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