You may have already noticed that when it comes to learning a language, there are generally two kinds of people. On one hand, there are those who seem like they’ve already started to master the language in a matter of months. On the other, there are those who continue making the same mistakes after years of practice. Why is that? Well, it’s got nothing to do with whether learning a language is difficult or not. Instead, it’s mainly due to the method the person has chosen to use. In this article, we’ll take a look at the learning mistakes to avoid and the best approaches to use to make quick progress in your target language.
Language Learning: Best Practices and Mistakes to Avoid
We’ve drawn on our collective experience as language learners and teachers, and come up with six of the most common mistakes that students make when learning a new language. Almost everybody commits one of these errors in their language learning journey. Be sure to read through everything carefully, so you know just how to stay on track! You’ll find some other common mistakes of language learning in our article on why people fail at learning a language (and how to make sure you’re not one of them).
Listening comprehension (understanding when people speak) is the most important skill to develop when you’re first starting out. Some programs will have you spending your time reading books, practicing writing, and doing grammar exercises. The best ones, however, focus on activities like listening to music and podcasts, watching TV shows and films, and other activities that can help you improve your listening comprehension.
As a result, people who follow the second approach make much faster progress in understanding the language they’re learning, while those who take the first approach often find themselves completely lost when it comes time to actually speak with a native speaker.
Immersing yourself in your target language from the start is absolutely essential!
Motivation is the key to learning a new language. It’s that feeling of motivation that pushes us to start learning a new language for the first time. Whether it’s because you’ve fallen in love with a country you visited, its food or its culture, or perhaps somebody you’ve fallen in love with, or to advance in your professional life, it’s important to write down your reasons for wanting to learn a language.
By reading your list of motivations any time you start to feel it slipping away, you can be sure to quickly get back on the right track. Remembering why you wanted to start learning a new language will help you stay motivated throughout your learning journey.
At some point in the future, it’s absolutely certain, you’re going to suddenly realize in the middle of a sentence that you don’t know which word to use next… And yes, you’re going to make mistakes. Lots of mistakes! And often, the same mistakes over and over. But if you can learn to take it in stride and with a smile, then there’s nothing to worry about.
The most important thing is to be conscious of your errors, but not to be frustrated by them each time you slip up, and your sentence doesn’t end up absolutely perfect in your target language. If you constantly put yourself down because of making mistakes, you’ll quickly lose the motivation you need to stick to your learning journey. Accepting one’s imperfections is the best way to see your mistakes for what they really are: a fantastic opportunity for making more progress!
Learning a new language takes time—but it doesn’t have to be tedious or boring. On the contrary, there are many ways to have fun while learning a language! And yet, many people still approach learning a language the same ways it’s taught in most school: “listen and repeat” exercises, in parallel with plenty of grammar. Super boring! And it’s no wonder that students taking this approach often give up quickly.
Your experience will be entirely different if you remember that learning a language isn’t just about learning, but can also be a lot of fun! Listening and repeating, and grammar, are important. But you can mix in plenty of fun activities as well. Try chatting online with a language buddy, reading comic books, cook books, or anything else that interests you, watching movies in the original language, listening to podcasts and music, and more.
This might seem counter-intuitive, but believe us: long, exhausting study sessions won’t help you learn any faster. You’ll quickly exhaust your ability to take in new information, and you’ll rapidly lose your motivation. It’s much better to study a little bit, but regularly. Working in this way, you’ll remember much more of what you’ve learned, without burning out after a few weeks. We recommend doing short study sessions of about 10 minutes each day, for example, and making steady progress, step by step.
This is completely normal. It’s a natural feeling that you may never fully be rid of. However, you shouldn’t let it stop you from speaking in your target language. It’s better to recognize the feeling for what it is, and remember that conversing in your target language is essential to making progress. Our recommendation is to embrace a sense of humility. Don’t worry about “how” you speak, and simple try to express yourself!
Every language learner, ever, in the long, long history of languages, has tripped over words, had to repeat themselves to be understood, forgotten words in the middle of a sentence, had long pauses while thinking—and yet, it’s possible to power through. And the more your practice, the fewer mistakes you’ll make, and the better your speech will become.
Take pleasure in speaking, and others will take pleasure in listening to you!
We’ve put together a video that explains each of these mistakes in detail, which you can find below. It’s recorded in English, but of course, we’ve included subtitles in French, English, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.
Just as there are mistakes to avoid, there are also a few things that every language learner should do (on top of having the right attitude for successfully learning a language, of course).
Vocabulary is the foundation of learning any new language. Without words and phrases, you will never be able to understand, much less start speaking in a new language. Therefore, your first objective is to learn as many words as possible, as quickly as possible. You can leave grammar for later, and you can leave speaking out loud for (a bit) later, but you can’t put off learning vocabulary.
That said, you may run into a problem that affects many beginners: having the impression that there are just too many new words to learn. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed, all that’s needed is a little organization. The most effective strategy is to simply focus on the words that are most frequently used in a language, and those which will be the most useful for you based on your objectives. For example, imagine you’re learning a new language to use in a professional setting. You’d want to concentrate your efforts on whatever words and phrases relate to your line of work.
Grammar is undeniably useful for polishing your language skills. But we at MosaLingua believe wholeheartedly that introducing grammar into your learning journey too early is a mistake. Grammar can be just as much of an impediment as a learning tool. It can be difficult, boring, and stops you from expressing yourself freely. When you start learning grammar, as soon as you open your mouth to speak, you start thinking constantly about rules and exceptions. This can have a seriously negative effect on your fluency and fluidity.
Instead, rather than focusing on grammar, we recommend only studying the most useful and important rules of grammar. For example, imagine you’re learning a language to be able to travel more easily. Focusing on learning everything you can about the future tense may not be a very good use of your time. Instead, there are simple hacks you can use for conveying time with the words you already know. This way, you can focus on the rules of grammar that you absolutely need to know.
In any language, having good pronunciation will make all the difference. It’s also one of the first things that native speakers notice (and praise you for) when you start having conversations. For this reason, it’s important to start working on proper pronunciation as early as possible—because once you pick up bad pronunciation habits, they can be extremely difficult to get rid of!
That said, don’t wait to have “perfect” pronunciation before starting to speak. Otherwise, you’ll never start speaking! Developing proper pronunciation takes time and lots of (spoken) practice, and the best way to get that practice is to start speaking out loud and having conversation. If you’re feeling shy, you can start by using the self-talk technique, but aim to start having conversations with others as soon as possible.
TLDR: Focus on your pronunciation, but don’t let imperfect pronunciation stop you from speaking.
As we mentioned in the first part of this article, not spending time working on your oral comprehension by listening to your target language is a mistake. To reinforce this, we’d even go so far as to say that it’s essential to spend time listening to your target language every day. You need to familiarize yourself with the sounds and sentence structures of your target language. Of course, we know it can be frustrating not understanding what you’re listening to, especially at the start. So we recommend a progressive approach:
In the beginning, only use audio resources that are simple to understand: those that have been specifically made for language learners. You’ll learn best by listening to content that’s adapted to your skill level. For example: podcasts for people learning your target language are an excellent primary resource at this stage of the game.
You may have trouble finding content that’s both interesting and adapted to your language level. To remedy this, we created MosaSeries, an original audio story that adopts this progressive approach and increases in difficulty as the story continues.
We’ve already spoken a few time about the importance of speaking. We know that many beginners would give anything to avoid having to speak out loud… But remember that learning a language is a skill that’s achieved only through practice! It’s absolutely essential to speak in your target language, and the earlier, the better. If you’re looking for an exact time-frame, we recommend starting to practice speaking after about three months into your learning journey.
For your first conversations, it helps to get prepared beforehand. Doing so will help make the difference between a (more) comfortable and successful conversation, and one that’s frustrating and ineffective. Being prepared simply means choosing your subjects of conversation ahead of time, reviewing and listening to words or expressions you’re likely to use, and preparing a cheat-sheet to help you out if you get stuck (e.g., “Would you mind repeating that?” or “Could you please speak more slowly?”)
Once again, you’ll find all of these DOs, and some more important DON’Ts in the video below. You can turn on subtitles by clicking on the ⚙ Settings icon in the bottom-right corner of the video.
So, have you made any of these mistakes? And are you using all the best approaches? Be sure to check out these articles to learn more:
- The 10 most difficult languages to learn
- The MosaLingua Team shares their biggest difficulties learning languages (Video)
- Become a fearless learner: Five things you need to stop telling yourself (Video)
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