As with any practice that doesn’t necessarily has a “one way” of being done, language learning has a few common mistakes that apply to most, if not all the available learning methods out there. Whether you’re studying using a free online course, through educational games, translated texts, flashcards or any other method, you’re bound to find one of these mistakes if what you’re using is not of good quality.
1. Learning the new language like a science
The language learning process is by no means comparable to say, learning a particular science or learning a profession. Language learning is a skill and like all skills, sheer, raw information gurgling won’t do the trick. This is a very common mistake that is especially hard to avoid in written language learning methods such as courses, online lessons and the likes. It’s very tempting for the writers of these materials to simply divide the language in big chunks and feed it to you with a large spoon: “here’s the grammar” “here’s the spelling” “here’s the vocabulary”. This will get you nowhere, or if it will indeed have any effect, you will take the longest route to get to it.
2. Taking large breaks
I’m feeling metaphorical today, so let me compare the language learning process to a huge furnace. If you want to light this huge furnace you’ll need to constantly feed it firewood and as you do so, you’ll see the fire growing bigger and bigger. Now, stop the process and the fire will go out and you’ll have to put an almost equally hard effort to get it back on. It’s the same with language learning. Once you get into it and you start getting the hang of it, a large break from studying or practicing could be a killer. Detach yourself completely from the learning and practicing and you’ll find yourself having to bring in a new load of firewood.
3. Learning too fast
There’s a factor that I like to call “learning anxiety” that usually affects persons trying to study a language because of a personal or professional need (your wife’s Japanese, your new business partner is French, your son is Dutch, stuff like that). This phenomenon happens when you’re in a rush to get basic grip on a language and you skip through some of the essential steps too fast. You go in studying grammar without a basic vocabulary, you get into advanced terms before even knowing the basic ones and so forth. This may indeed allow you to understand and make yourself understood in a conversation, but overall, you will take more time correcting your wrongfully learnt concepts than it would have taken you if you had studied them correctly in the first place.
4. Using solely “theoretical” learning methods
This issue could be a problem with 9 out of 10 learning processes, but the language learning one is even more acute. Whether you could pull it off perfectly in say, physics, if you only used theoretical learning all the time and you were suddenly faced with a real, practical problem, with language learning you’re bound to look a fool. Theoretical language learning will hardly form any accurate pronunciation skills and whenever you’ll be faced with an actual conversation in that language, you just won’t be able to express all that theoretical information you stored up.
5. Using the “all work no play” technique
It’s well known that anything you learn while relaxing or having fun, you learn with more ease and the information you store this way is longer lasting and can be used more effectively. You’ll be amazed by the amount of language learning techniques out there that don’t take advantage of this and instead, tend to follow the more rigorous path. Sure, playing vocabulary games, using flashcards, completing quizzes or whatever you could deem as “fun learning” won’t be as fast or intense as the rigid methods, but you get the above mentioned effects and you lose the risk of getting learning fatigue.
6. Learning monotony
Although last in our list, this is by far the most common mistake that you will find with online language courses and even with language center practical lessons and courses. Language learning is a long, arduous process, make no mistake about it. I don’t care what those “Learn Spanish in 2 weeks” course books say, it just can’t be done in such a short time span. Or well, if you consider grasping the complicated inner-workings of phrases like “Hello, how are you today?” in Spanish having “learnt” a language, then so be it. Anyway, the point is that in this long and arduous process, we tend to get bored, we tend to lose the initial enthusiasm when we realize that “hey, this isn’t as fun as I thought, it’s actually hard work”. Lesson monotony does not help this and it’s the main reason most people simply quit a course instead of putting up with it.
To avoid learning monotony, try to mix up your learning methods as much as possible. Use translated texts, use audio tapes, engage in conversations with friends, teachers or other students, watch media in that particular language if available, play educational games, use flashcards, use the dictionary to improve your vocabulary, do ANYTHING you have to do, just don’t let learning boredom overcome you, because trust me when I say this, it’s a foreign language killer in way too many cases.