Common mistakes made when learning a foreign language


Common mistakes made when learning a foreign language


There are plenty of ‘common mistakes made when learning a foreign language’ to choose from. Unfortunately many students make things hard for themselves. But with the correct planning and preparation you will soon be on your way to one of life’s most wonderful and rewarding experiences.


Let’s not beat around the bush, learning a second language is not a piece of cake. Unless you have a photographic memory or until Google invents a memory chip which can be inserted in our brain, there are no shortcuts or quick fixes.


One of the most common mistakes made when learning a foreign language is expecting that the language will magically pop into your head in a matter of months. This is akin to buying a house on the Mediterranean coast and supposing the mythical health benefits of the ‘Mediterranean diet’ will simply waft in through the window and make you ten years younger over night as you sit back supping sangria.


You have to work at learning a foreign language and you have to be ready for the long haul. You will only learn, remember and correctly use the language to a high level and sound like a native if you make it part of your natural lifestyle and enjoy it, now and forever.


A one-month cabbage-only diet will make you slimmer in the short term, but you won’t enjoy it, won’t sustain it and will quickly put the weight back on if you go back to the burgers and fries.


The key to both healthy eating and learning a foreign language is that you understand what you are doing, truly want to do it and are ready to make the sacrifices and changes necessary to integrate it into your daily lifestyle.


Another of the most common mistakes made when learning a foreign language is putting oneself down and throwing in the towel. Popular put-downs are “I’m too old!”, “I’m no good at languages!”, and “I´m not intelligent enough!” but there are plenty others if none of those apply and you really want to give up.


Some of these things, of course, can be influential factors, but they are not significant enough to deter a determined and focused student from achieving their goal. Don’t kid yourself. If you really want to learn, you can.


The reality is that it is better not to think too much about the process as this only distracts and complicates matters. You should try to learn a foreign language as children do when they learn their native tongue, by inserting it into your daily life and being constant, confident, curious, and open minded.


Children don’t mind when they make inevitable errors in grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation. They don’t stress about all the ambiguities. They don’t carry dictionaries or lists of irregular verbs around with them. They don’t get embarrassed or pull out a notebook to jot down their mistakes. They just crack on with finding the next gap in their knowledge.


There is so much to learn that there is no point procrastinating over the finer details. The more you speak, listen, read and write, the quicker you learn. It’s that simple. With the correct attitude, anyone can learn a second language.


And what is there to be embarrassed about anyway? Be proud that you are speaking and understanding another language, at whatever level that may be. It is a brilliant achievement. It is also very likely that the other person will only speak one language and will be admiring you with envy.


Not wanting to make errors, that is another of the common mistakes made when learning a foreign language. Not wanting to make errors actually is the error. You should be planning to make loads of errors. Get stuck in! Practice, learn, improve!


Don’t try to make it too easy for yourself either. If you are constantly listening to pre-intermediate podcasts because you like to be able to understand everything you will never arrive to upper-advanced. Push yourself. Once you start understanding 50% of an advanced podcast, that pre-intermediate one will be an absolute doddle. And then you can really start feeling good about your level.


Not speaking enough with natives is definitely another of the more common mistakes made when learning a foreign language. This may be because you are learning the language in another country with few native-speaking neighbours or because you find it harder to understand a native speaker. But let’s be clear: sourcing native influences is essential. If you want to speak like a native you have to learn from natives.


Now, thanks to the internet and the like of live online classes and distance learning courses, there are many ways to get in contact with native speakers as often as you like. And you can combine this with watching television, videos and movies from the country, reading books and websites and listening to the radio.


You should get stuck into these resources as quickly as possible. You might not understand much at first, but, just like a child, you will soon start piecing things together. Little by little, your level will increase as you slowly see the light and grow in confidence. Eventually you are able to speak, listen, read and write relaxed. And that will be when you really start learning.


But you must still never stop, even when you can understand and speak to native speakers with confidence. You become a bilingual person and you should divide your life into regular things you do and enjoy in one language and regular things you do and enjoy in another.


One could argue that you don’t really ‘learn’ a foreign language. Sure, you make an initial decision to ‘learn a foreign language’, but from that point on you should ‘live’ the foreign language. This really is the only way to achieve and maintain the holy grail of using a second language like a native speaker.

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