The 10 most common mistakes we make when learning a new language
All of us, during our effort to learn a new foreign language, we unconsciously fall into little traps. Very often, we feel stuck in a specific stage and we can’t overcome it, while obviously we aren’t changing anything in the way we try.
So, let’s see, which those invisible traps are so we can avoid them!
- We do not set goals!
We are ready, excited, we have found an amazing teacher, we have bought our new books and we are just about to start our first lessons! If someone asks us which is the reason why we have decided to start learning this foreign language, everyone will answer with every detail about what their further purpose is and by which time they would like to attain it.
Oh! How great it would be if this mood could last for over a month! After the first few days, the majority of students, are getting lost in this anxious and buzzy reality and they don’t set goals concerning what they learn. They patiently follow the process and they get terrified in the idea of a simple test.
What would really speed up our progress, would be setting frequently, small and specific goals ourselves. ‘From the 100 new words I SAW this month, do I know what the 50 of them mean? Can I write correctly those 50?’, ‘From the linking words I have been taught, can I acquire about 10 so that I can express my ideas by connecting them?’, ‘ Can I transmit in this foreign language correct basic personal information?’, ‘By the end of the next month, I will have practiced in more everyday dialogues’, etc.
According to whether we accomplish them or no, we understand ourselves the rate of our progress and adjust our studying accordingly.
- Test? Who said anything about tests?
I challenge you. Just say the word ‘test’! Only its sound, is like a war siren in children’s ears, bringing panic, regardless of their age… ‘What are the SOS subjects?’ (we will get back to this point!), ‘When did we have the time to comprehend everything and write a test?’, ‘I don’t have the time to study!’, ‘Someone must give me his notes because they are definitely better than mine’, ‘Because of stress, I always have a black-out ,and this is just going to one more time!’, ‘I’ll get the worst mark in class!’.
I plead guilty! Everyone, just like me, have reacted like this before writing a test. But let’s not forget that at this stage, tests are just a way of evaluating our knowledge that we have acquired until now, as well as our general progress! Are we progressing? Are we learning? Is there a common mistake we repeat in every single test?
Tests immediately reveal our level and the points that we have to pay attention to more. Let’s regard them as signs of our progress and nothing more!
- We always do the same thing!
When we learn something new, usually all of us, choose to study and practise something in the same way that we learnt something similar in the past. We think that since this method functioned in the past, it will definitely work out now.
Mmm…, I am afraid that something like that is not entirely correct! We usually start with a repetitive word copy, by closing and opening the book trying through all that to remember the meaning of a new word and we solve grammar exercises, like lunatics.
Those traditional methods bring upon naturally a kind of result but they don’t have the greatest results…Simply, because our brain is designed to constantly evolve. It works better with new tools. Let’s try changing our way of studying! We can start by reading articles in the foreign language and no single words. We can listen to dialogues in the foreign language while the speakers use, for example, a past tense that we are trying to learn.
- Focus on a point.
Most of us, usually think that if we learn the grammar of a language perfectly, we can immediately speak it. This is, also, a mistake that a lot of teachers make. We devote time to grammar practice and leave all the other parts for later.
Others, consider that a full vocabulary is enough to provide us with the knowledge we need to sufficiently handle a foreign language. We use every vocabulary book and we learn by heart as many as words we can, as possible, even if they are irrelevant to each other.
However, a foreign language has a lot of parts which we need to be able to gracefully handle. All these parts, the reading comprehension, the listening or the oral practice, the writing are added to those we have mentioned and they have to walk together “hand by hand’’. Never the one more than the others, but in no case should we ever let a part completely for later on.
- We learn irrelevant to each other words.
We copy them about 10 times each, along with their translation in greek, of course and before writing a test we usually close our book trying to repeat those that we have learned by heart. And the result of that? We have learned for example the words ‘airplane’, ‘glass’, ‘enterprise’ and ‘window’, those and so many more!
At least, this is what we think. When we see them in front of us we don’t remember the meaning of all of them, but the worst thing is that when we want to use one of them…we are lost in the absolute void! Where have all the words that we struggled to learn gone?
Yet …if we had learned from the beginning an expression, for example ‘I travel for my enterprise often by airplane and I put my glass next to the window’, then, believe me, that if not all of the words, then the majority of those words I have mentioned would have remained in our mind.. This is happening because our brain more easily remembers sentences and no single words, just because the sentences express thoughts, something that our brain definitely will need for the future in the language we learn.
- Holy Grammar
The Student’s Bible. The only book that we always have with us. We learn all the rules by heart and we can almost recite all the exceptions. Unfortunately, most of the time, we oversee the examples given if we consider them to be really insignificant. We move on to the exercises of the chapter we are frantically solving to make sure we understand the grammatical phenomenon that is analyzed in the chapter. We move on to the next chapter without taking a look back, feeling so proud that we’ve learned everything perfectly!
Does that remind you of anything? Probably yes! Here we come across a very common mistake, not only for students but also for their teachers. We believe that raw learning of grammar rules can lead to an understanding of this language and to a correct reproduction of it.
I wish it was like that! We should never forget that the grammar of a language links words in order to express a complete meaning. If we do not know words, how will we use it? How does it help us to know which tense to use to talk about the past when we cannot simply describe our day yesterday?
Is it preferable then, to be able to express ourselves, either written or orally, in the foreign language, by making grammar mistakes which we can correct gradually and not orally know composite grammar phenomena but not be able to use any of them.
- We do not read about things that interest us.
No matter what is our age when we learn a foreign language, we certainly have a hobby that interests us and maybe we have been practicing years. For some of us this may be reading books, the cinema, a sport and even fishing. We believe that our hobbies and the learning of a foreign language are irrelevant to each other.
Why not make an effort to combine the things we love and at the same time want to practice both? For example, if we like reading literature books, we can start reading smaller ones in the language we learn. If we like watching movies we can put subtitles in this language. The same applies to all kinds of hobbies! Instead of reading about them or taking instructions in our native language, let’s do it in our target language. Our mind, when reading things that finds interesting is much more likely to retain words and phrases.
- We don’t speak the foreign language at all!
Most of us have no problem doing exercises or studying grammar and vocabulary. We begin to have a little problem when we have to do listening training but for most of us the real problem occurs when our teacher or someone else is talking to us and he expects us to answer in the foreign language.
We gulp, blush and exhale! We cannot even articulate a word! We think of a sentence in our mind, we prepare it, but our mouth remains tightly closed. Nothing comes out!
This is usually the case because most of us think that just before we give some oral examinations, we have to start speaking this language, so we do not do any exercises before that moment. And as it is natural, we cannot even speak when the time times.
Let us not forget that the reason we learn a foreign language is communication. And communication is mainly by speaking. So let’s start talking from day one! Yes! Of course, by making mistakes! But only if we talk we will have the opportunity to do it and thus to correct it. And step-by-step, phrase-phrase, our verbal speech will become ever longer and more detailed in what we say.
- Our expectations are too great.
Certainly, when we start to learn a foreign language, we look forward to being able to talk, read, understand and speak in that language. From the very beginning, we start and think that ‘in the first month I should already be able to introduce myself’, ‘within three months I should be able to write a report in that language’ or ‘ I should be able to understand what I hear in this language from the first lessons’.
As if these truly high goals weren’t hard enough, we also begin to compare ourselves with other students who are quicker in practicing a particular part of language.
These exaggerated expectations combined with our mistaken comparison with other students only make us lose our courage and faith in ourselves. We start and persuade ourselves that if we fail to accomplish these “small” goals then we will not be able to do anything in the long run.
Let us be honest with ourselves and let us accept that every effort at the beginning is difficult and that every person needs their own learning time. Let us set up frequent but reasonable goals, the achievement of which will fill us only with the strength and courage to continue!
- We do not stay determined.
When we begin learning a new language, we are absolutely sure about our new goal and we are prepared to do anything to learn. We are ready to devote our free time and our relaxation. Especially, during the first few months our excitement remains intact and moves us forward.
Coming up against the first big difficulties, we start feeling discouraged and decide that learning is going to be more difficult than what we had imagined. We start doubting ourselves and wonder if it is worth putting ourselves through this process with doubtful results.
At this stage, most of us, just quit! We quit before we have actually begun!
Before starting to learn a new language, as well as anything new, it would be truly wise to fill ourselves with determination, persistence and patience. We should expect that there will be difficulties and there will be times that we will want to stop. At those moments, especially, we should remember that all people go through the same stages when learning something new, but what leads to success is not the lack of small failures but our determination to achieve our goal!