Learning a second (or third or fourth) language can seem like an enormous task at first. And sure, many who start on their way to fluency, do not finish the path. But, of course, it can be done – with the right attitude and right tools, you can even become fluent in a matter of months. And the question becomes, how to best recognise and avoid the most common mistakes language learners make.
So, before you start with a new language (or if you already feel stuck with learning one), take a look at the common missteps and try to steer clear.
1. Setting Unrealistic Goals
There is a German proverb that goes “Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen” which would loosely translate to “Practice makes perfect”. Although becoming fluent can be done at breakneck speed, the majority of language learners usually take their time and fit their lessons into their daily schedule, not the other way around. The key to acquiring a new language is (most of the time) persistency – so don’t expect to be able to debate in your target language in a few months, but focus on what you can do daily to keep taking little steps forward.
So, instead of setting unrealistic goals, thinking that you’re not progressing fast enough and then giving up entirely, try taking a critical look at what and how fast you’re trying to achieve. Then, carve out a bit of time each day to take you closer to your objectives.
2. Not Enjoying the Process
Although having the Grand Goal of Becoming Fluent is a great thing in language learning, it’s also not the most important aspect to take you to success. In most cases, becoming entirely comfortable in a second language takes years of practice. So working on your skills with only that one goal in mind can quickly lead to frustration.
Replace the one major goal with a list of smaller, more readily achievable targets, so that you can feel your progression happening. Try to enjoy the process of learning and look at it more as a hobby than homework. In short – make learning fun for yourself!
3. Using Passive Language Learning
There’s a reason why the most common language proficiency tests measure the four language skills. You need all of them – reading, writing, listening, and speaking – to fully master a tongue. In school, with dozens of people in a class, the most emphasis, unfortunately, tends to be on advancing the passive skills. This is also why schools tend to have an abysmal rate of success in teaching foreign languages.
Be sure to get a mix of practice in all four major skills to really start seeing advancement. It won’t matter how well you know grammar and vocabulary – if you don’t actually practice speaking, it will not spontaneously appear as a major skill in your arsenal.
4. Not Adapting to Yourself
Learning a language doesn’t happen in a vacuum and, while you do need practice on all four major language skills, you also won’t help yourself by taking a purely mechanical view of the learning process. Sticking to a set of one book, one workbook, and a couple of language learning channels will help you know that material very well but not get you far with the language overall.
So, instead of trying to acquire all the material that is thrown at you by various language learning resources, focus on what’s important to you. You like cooking? Learn traditional native recipes. Enjoy computer games? Change the language options accordingly. Need to increase your language skills for work? Immerse yourself in your field in your target language.
Conclusion – Make the Process Enjoyable and Personalised to Achieve Success
Now that you’re familiar with at least a few of the missteps that can ruin learning a new language, it’s a lot easier to avoid them. When trying to get a hang of your target language, just make sure you make the process as enjoyable as possible for yourself, and try to look at it more as a hobby.
The important thing is to keep persistently practicing to reach fluency while not setting completely unachievable goals that can do little more than frustrate you.