Monday, February 5, 2018

8 Common Mistakes To Avoid While Learning a Foreign Language by Lynn Adamsen

Learning a new language is usually challenging. Therefore, in order to avoid making mistakes, there are articles, tools, and resources that may aid you in the learning process. You should also develop habits that improve your chances of learning a new language.

If you decide to learn a new language, you should be aware that gaining fluency is an arduous task. But the journey can become even more difficult if you fall into common traps. Here are several mistakes that you should avoid while learning a new language:

1. Setting Unrealistic Goals

One common mistake that people do is thinking that a language can be learned in just a few months. That’s far from the truth. Aiming for such goals will only make you believe that you're not good enough and you'll quickly give up. Learning a foreign language is more like a marathon than a sprint. As we all know, practice makes perfect. Therefore, you have to understand that learning any language will require effort, energy, and time.

Start with small steps and learn every single day. Be persistent!

2. Relying on a Single Method

Mistakes usually happen when you focus on a single method. There are a lot of ways to learn a language, so make sure to find the ones that fit you. Some of us might prefer to listen and repeat, others like to learn through reading. You can search for a tutor online and ask him to help you throughout your learning process.  Using a variety of different methods will increase your chances of mastering the language.  

Learning using multiple methods is crucial, as you get the chance to practice all kinds of communication (writing, speaking, listening, and reading). Sometimes the written language is completely different different to the spoken language. This means you may have to diversify your learning methods until you find something that works for you.

3. Using Your Native Language

When you start learning a foreign language, you may use your native language when asking questions and putting your new words and phrases into comprehensible speech. You'll still think in your native language and translate from it, and this is natural when you begin. However, when your skills improve, your mind should start thinking in a foreign language, without having to go through a double-language process. But many learners still can't stop using it which actually hinders their fluency in a targeted language.

"To improve a second language experience my students learn everything in context. We learn set phrases with separate words to have more options for different situations, use monolingual dictionaries, learn synonyms and antonyms to express their thoughts, memorise words by defining their meanings, use visual aids to minimise native language presence in the course of learning," - Jenny Stewart, a language tutor at Superior Papers.

4. Not Speaking

Another mistake that people make when trying to learn a new language is not speaking enough. This doesn't mean repeating words, I mean really talking to one another. There are people that are still struggling to learn a language after 10 years of trying.

Speaking a foreign language for the first time can be difficult, and you will make mistakes. Don’t be embarrassed because you are mispronouncing words! That’s normal, and people will understand. Memorising hundreds of words without using them in speech is a waste of time. So, lose your inhibitions and speak!

5. Not Listening

Just like when babies learn to talk, listening will help you detect and learn patterns, all while reinforcing your vocabulary. Listening is one of the best ways to learn. Try watching a movie in your target language and listen very carefully. Listen to your favourite foreign music while reading the lyrics. In any case, make it an essential part of your learning process. This way you’ll not only acquire new words and patterns, but you'll also train your ear to distinguish the different pronunciation while improving your own.

6. Treating Language like a School Subject

First of all, you must understand that a language is not like maths, history, or any other school subject. A language is an instrument for expressing yourself. It's a skill that will open a new world for you, so treat it with respect. Think of it as a hobby rather than a complicated task. 

7. Not Tracking Your Progress

Without tracking your progress and reviewing the knowledge you've gained, it’s easy to get lost in as all the new information and words keep entering your mind. You need a clear working structure: learning, contextual practising, spaced repetition, and testing for any gaps. Make tracking your progress a habit and revise the words or language patterns you've learnt regularly to keep them fresh and ready to be used.

8. Losing Your Faith

Learning a language can take a while, that’s for sure. Many learners lose their faith along the way and give up because they are not motivated enough.

The funny thing is that we seem to forget that we learned our native language in 9-10 years, and we never thought about giving up. However, it’s true that learning a foreign language is not the same.  Nevertheless, there are films, video games, and online communities that can make learning extremely fun.

As you can see, learning a new language can be a fun activity. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. They're part of the learning process. Take your time and don't rush. Even if it takes you 10 years to get the hang of it, its fine! Remember to practise every day and you will be surprised of the results. 

Lynn Adamsen is a language teacher and a freelance editor from Edinburgh. She believes that one day people will be able to understand each other without any difficulty and speak one language. But, for the time being, she's trying to master Spanish and German to narrow the gap. Feel free to get in touch @lynn_adamsen.

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