10 Common Mistakes Language Learners Make (and How to Fix Them)

by Elijah Ben Mar 15, 2018

With the world becoming more interconnected, more of us are required to have heightened language and communication skills. Learning a new language depends on patience, discipline and time. Three elements which are difficult to practice and fit into an everyday schedule. Personally, I have struggled to learn different languages. French and Portuguese were relatively easy to pick up due to their similarity to English. Japanese, on the other hand, was a real challenge.

Through my personal learning experience and ten years in education, I’ve noted a few common mistakes people make when learning a new language. Here 10 common mistakes people make when learning a new language and some helpful tips to keep you in a good mindset.

1. Getting discouraged by your mistakes.

Let’s start with the basics. Mistakes are ok — in fact, they are necessary. By making mistakes, you are creating a learning opportunity for yourself. Whether it’s a grammar point or a lack of vocabulary, making mistakes is all part of the fun of learning a new language. Practice patience, be kind to yourself and take your time.

2. Misunderstanding how you learn.

How you learn is just as important as what you learn. Everyone is different, and each person absorbs information differently. There are seven distinct learning styles ranging from visual to aural to physical. Do you enjoy reading about your interests? Would you prefer a more hands-on approach to learning? Do you retain information easily or do you need constant reminding? Understanding these and other questions can help you create a learning discipline that will help you to retain a new language.

3. Not starting with the sounds.

When learning a new language, it is important to start with how a language sounds. While reading and writing can be enticing, all languages will have a unique sound to them. That is why it is important to start with listening and repeating at first. Reading and writing should not be ignored, but for the sake of fluency, they should take a backseat to verbal exercises.

4. Focusing on the wrong vocabulary.

You should be mindful of what kind of vocabulary you are learning. Ideally, you want to create a base of vocabulary, a foundation, that you can grow from. If you are a beginner, focus on useful vocabulary. Numbers, colors, vehicles, family members, and food are usually great places to start. The core purpose is to get you speaking right away, so start with simple, practical vocabulary.

5. Not building sentence vocabulary.

Building sentences is an essential part of learning a new language, and it is often overlooked. There are many common phrases that every language has a version of which can start you off. “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “I’m sorry,” and “Thank you” are very common terms and usually easy to learn. Adding common everyday expressions to your studies will help you grasp the language faster.

However, there are basic sentences that can help you expand your base vocabulary. Start by using a selection of simple verbs, then combine these with your base vocabulary to start speaking simple sentences. After these get easier, you can begin to add more complex syntax like prepositional phrases and adverbs.

6. Focusing too much on grammar.

If you are just starting out in a language, don’t worry so much about grammar. I have often found myself getting caught in grammar confusion when it doesn’t serve me in that moment. Grammar lessons can come later down the road, but for now, you need to have your vocabulary down so that when the grammar lessons come around, you won’t get stuck parsing your sentence construction.

7. Stressing over pronunciation.

As mentioned before, every language will have its own unique sound. Some of the more exotic languages can have sounds that you are not used to making. When I was learning Japanese, there weren’t too many crazy sounds to learn since it’s predominantly a monotonic language. However, going from Japanese to Hebrew has me moving my mouth in completely different ways. But don’t worry about that! Pronunciation will come over time. The more you practice a language, the more you will pick up on the unique sounds. If you are speaking with natives, they will also help you with pronunciation.

8. Listening to native speakers.

Quite often, people will study a language and then try their skills on native speakers. However, they will sometimes get frustrated when the native speakers communicate with other native speakers. In my time teaching English, I have always tried to slow my speech down so that I can be more easily understood. Remember that listening with intent is good enough. Trying to achieve speed in your speech is important, but practice is not efficient if you’re not doing it correctly. If you’re getting upset because you can’t understand native speakers, relax.

Remember, this is not a race, it’s a journey.

9. Not giving yourself enough time.

Many people I have met who try to learn new languages tend to give up quickly because they lack motivation and results. This is understandable. Learning a new language takes time and patience. Give yourself credit for your early achievements and set goals for yourself to battle lack of motivation.

10. Not being in the right mindset.

Sometimes when teaching, I can see when a student is just not into the lesson that day. Our lives sometimes get in the way of our goals. This is something to keep in mind. Before I jump into a lesson, I usually give myself a language “pep talk.” This talk reviews what I learned in the last lesson and prepares me for new information.

Learning a new language is not easy and takes a lot of dedication. Keep in mind of how much time it took for you to master your own language! The most important thing is to not give up and keep with your routine and learning the language.

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