Learning a new language can be a long and difficult process. And we have probably all been there where we have started to study a new language, didn’t see any progress and eventually gave up.
But it doesn’t always have to be that way! While of course everybody will have their own methods of studying and figure out what works best for them, here are 10 common mistakes that you might make when starting to learn a new language. And how to fix them!
So hopefully, by avoiding these common language learning mistakes, you won’t be as frustrated with the learning process and be able to successfully acquire a new language in the long-term. Good luck!
1. Not having a connection with the language
If I’d have to name just one mistake that people make when learning a new language, then it has to be the absence of a connection between oneself and the language. Or to say, not having a strong enough motivation to study the language in the first place.
And while vocabulary, grammar or the right study material is important (and we will cover that as well), without the proper reasoning for language learning it probably won’t be really successful.
Here is an example so you hopefully understand what I am trying to say.
When I was living in Australia, I thought it would be a good idea to learn a new language and for whatever reason I wanted to learn Swedish. I thought the language sounded nice and I really wanted to travel to Sweden one day.
I had never been to Sweden before and I also never really talked to many Swedish people, nor did I have a connection to the country or culture.
So I got a Babble subscription and started learning the vocabulary of different fruits and vegetables. I quit after about two weeks, barely remember anything and also still have never travelled to Sweden. Looking back, I was missing the right reasons to study the language.
And your reasoning can be whatever you want it to be but it needs to be something that keeps you motivated and that makes you feel connected to a certain country and/or the language.
For example, a lot of people are studying Korean because of their love of K-Pop. By understanding Korean, they can understand the song lyrics or listen to interviews of their favourite artists. And that’s an example of a great motivation. What is yours?
2. Focusing on grammar only
Yes, grammar is important! And you won’t be able to speak a language if you don’t know anything about its grammar.
But also, grammar isn’t everything! At least not when you are still getting familiar with the language. Your main objective should always be to understand what other people are saying and then to make yourself understood.
In the end, if you can name every rule of the past tense in the Spanish language, but are not able to understand a basic conversation, then you should really change your approach to learning a language. So don’t just focus on grammar! Try to incorporate as many listening, reading and speaking exercises in your study routine as possible.
3. Using the wrong learning resources
There are a bunch of amazing resources out there, but some are just better than others. But while just studying with an app like Duolingo is a fun way to study, you just won’t become fluent in a language in that way. It is a good way to get a first idea of a language and also practise some vocabulary.
But when your language skills start evolving, you also need to adjust the way you study.
4. Not investing in language classes
Or let me phrase this a little better: Not investing in the right language classes. If you think you can go to a language group class once a week and learn a language that way then you are mistaken. And what I have noticed in these group classes, a lot of times the other participants are missing number 1 on this list: the motivation why they want to learn that specific language in the first place.
However, really intense classes, where you would for example have classes several times a week would be completely different. Because nobody is going to sign up for a class like that if they don’t have enough reasoning to learn the language. But also most people do not have the time or the money to afford that.
But a language class once a week is still not a bad idea, it just shouldn’t be your only resource. Because mostly you won’t be focusing too much on speaking and if you do so then you have to speak to your classmates who make mistakes as well and it is just not that helpful. It is a lot more helpful to talk to native speakers.
I have started taking lessons with Italki at least once a week where I talk to a native speaker for an hour. And these definitely have been the most helpful lessons I have ever taken. I can be flexible with my timing but most importantly I am forced to speak and it is only you and the teacher so it can be focused solely on what you need to improve rather than what is on the class schedule for today.
You can also book trial lessons on Italki for as little as $1!
And here is a referral link for Italki. With this link you will get $10 of Italki credit if you ever spend $20 on Italki lessons. (I would get $10 worth of Italki credit, too, which is like one free lesson so thank you in advance)
5. Not trying to speak
Speaking in a foreign language can be terrifying and of course you don’t want to make any mistakes. But let’s be honest, the most important thing about a language is to speak and to be able to communicate. Start trying to speak as early as possible in the new language. And if you make a lot of mistakes, so what?
The more you speak, the more your confidence will build up and the faster you will learn. All the rules, vocabulary and ways of speaking you might just pick up along the way.
Talk to friends that speak the language you are studying. Or if you are more comfortable talking to a stranger, I’d recommend Italki lessons once again.
6. Using only one learning tool
Don’t just only use one app, have one group class or read one book. That’s also not a fun way to study, you do want to have some diversity.
Try using as many resources as possible and switch them up. You can study with traditional study books, different apps, group classes, online conversational classes, podcasts, books, radio, music or youtube videos.
And try to focus on things you find interesting! I usually listen to a lot of Formula 1 podcasts, so I just listen to a Dutch Formula 1 podcasts or watch Formula 1 Youtube Videos in Spanish.
Also I love Harry Potter, so I ordered a Harry Potter book in Spanish. And since I have already read the book multiple times in other languages, I already know what happens so it doesn’t matter if I don’t understand everything word by word.
7. Putting on English subtitles
This is a mistake I made a lot when I was watching Spanish TV shows on Netflix. I would listen to it in Spanish but would use English subtitles. And then in the end I just ended up reading the subtitles constantly and didn’t learn anything.
Try putting on the subtitles in the language that you are listening to! And if you don’t understand everything, that doesn’t matter. But you will notice that in this way you will get a way better feeling of the language and improve your listening skills.
And of course, once you are more comfortable in a language, remove all subtitles once in for all.
8. Not focusing on relevant vocabulary
Of course, vocabulary is important. Really important. How else are you going to learn how to speak if you don’t know any words?
But start with vocabulary that is actually relevant!
I know when I started learning Spanish, I did so with Duolingo. And while I knew the names of all the animals and things I’d like to have on my sandwich, when I actually started Spanish classes, I didn’t know how to count to 20 in Spanish.
So firstly focus on some important basics obviously. But after that try to learn new words about topics you find interesting and that you would want to talk about in real life!
For example you could find some articles about topics that you like and study the vocabulary that you encounter in the text.
9. Not being consistent. Consistency is key!
At the beginning of the learning process, you tend to be super motivated, buy a lot of study material, spent a lot of time studying and then when you don’t see results, that motivation disappears suddenly.
Nobody is telling you to study for two hours a day, nobody is telling you that you have to study at all, but even a couple of minutes a day is better than nothing.
If you have a busy schedule and are lacking free time, try to incorporate the language into your daily life in other ways. For example, listen to a podcast in the language you are learning while doing chores around the house. Or watch your favourite TV show in a foreign language. Change the language on your phone and go through your phone settings. Anything works as long as you are being consistent!
10. Giving up and being frustrated
Nothing more frustrating when you think you have made some great progress but then when you hear native speakers talk you can’t understand a single thing. That experience can definitely be discouraging to say the least. But don’t give up! It is totally normal to feel frustrated but it is important to just keep going anyway.
Try to become more familiar with the sound of the language, even if you don’t understand much. Listen to people talk, watch TV shows in that language or have a radio channel with a certain language playing in the background.
When I moved to the US for a year, I only spoke a little bit of English and I had this one teacher in High School that had a really thick Southern accent. And let me tell you, while I felt like I was making so much progress, every time I sat in this class, I understood nothing at all. And that lasted for probably two weeks.
But just being exposed to the language (and the accent) every day I picked up on it after a while. After a couple of weeks I honestly couldn’t remember how I had issues understanding that teacher at all.
And there you have it: 10 common language mistakes you might be making (and hopefully won’t be anymore!). What language are you currently studying?
Talk to you later x
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