Mistakes are a part of our everyday life; we make them, we fret over them, hopefully, we learn from them. Mistakes are also a natural part of learning foreign languages.
However, not all mistakes are made equal. Mispronouncing a word or using the wrong article is not that big a deal (more on that in a moment!) – it’s all part of learning a language, and you make fewer such mistakes as you progress.
There are other language learning mistakes that are less about grammar and vocabulary and more about your attitude and approach to learning your target language. Making these mistakes can hold you back and severely slow down your progress. In this case, it is better to learn ‘by other men’s mistakes’, as they say wise men do, and avoid making them yourself.
In this article, we’ll take a look at 7 of the biggest mistakes language learners often make and how to avoid or fix them completely .
1. Obsessing Over Your Language Learning Mistakes
Many learners stress so much over making mistakes that they prefer not to say something if they are not sure how to say it correctly. This is a very dangerous path! Quite often you actually need to make mistakes – and then correct them – to learn how to say things correctly.
It is an essential part of learning any foreign language. You will mispronounce words and use wrong grammar. You will also learn from them and make progress.
Stressing and obsessing over your mistakes is a waste of time. Mistakes are a natural part of learning any foreign language and they are only bad if you allow them to be – and if you don’t learn by them. Continuously beating yourself up about every little error just drains your emotional energy.
Worst case scenario, you get completely stuck because you don’t want to make a mistake but are unable to move on without doing so.
What can you do to fix this? Learn to love your mistakes, or at least to accept them and learn from them. It doesn’t matter if your vocabulary is limited. It doesn’t matter if your pronunciation isn’t flawless. And it certainly doesn’t matter if your grammar isn’t perfect. Take a moment to analyse the mistake, maybe write down or listen to the correct variant, and move on.
Learning from your mistakes is an essential skill that will help you to move forward and stay positive. Those who recognise, accept and learn from their mistakes are the ones who make the fastest progress.
You can read more on this subject here.
2. Preparing For Failure With Negative Thinking
Negative self-talk has ruined the potential achievements of many a language learner.
‘Learning a foreign language is just so hard’; ‘I’ll never be able to pronounce that’; ‘I’m really not good at language learning’; ‘I just can’t deal with all those annoying grammar rules’ – does any of this sound familiar?
These are not just innocent thoughts, these are the shackles that prevent you from having fun and making real progress in learning a foreign language.
Of course, some aspects of language learning may be challenging. However, there are many more things about it that are so very enjoyable. And there is no tricky pronunciation and weird grammar rule that you can’t master with a bit of patience and effort. Negative thoughts demotivate you and make language learning much harder than it has to be. Try changing your negative self-talk to positive self-talk.
Positive self-talk will make you feel good about yourself and the challenges of learning a foreign language. It’s like having an optimistic voice in your head that only looks on the bright side of life.
Examples: ‘This is tough but I’m trying as hard as I can.’ ‘With just a little more practice, my pronunciation will definitely improve’. ‘ Okay, I’m not the best at learning grammar rules but I’m getting better all the time’. ‘I CAN do this!’
Changing your mindset may take some time, but it is well worth the effort. With positive thinking, learning a foreign language is much easier and much more fun.
3. Ignoring The Language Learning Basics
The alphabet, the sounds of the language, the most basic vocabulary and grammar – these are the building blocks of any language, which are often ignored by learners. ‘I’ll learn all that while learning to read/write/speak/listen anyway’.
The basics may seem trivial but skipping them is a huge mistake. Not mastering the basics will ultimately slow your progress. You’ll have to go back again and again to revise and double-check things. You’ll likely find yourself repeatedly asking: Is this the right spelling? How is this letter pronounced again? How do you say that word using the past tense? (For example).
Taking time to start with the basics and learn them well is a wise investment: gaps in your knowledge won’t slow you down and you’ll be able to devote time to learning new things instead of revising the basics again and again.
4. Too Much Focus on Grammar
Grammar is an important language aspect. But so is vocabulary. So are communicative skills. Don’t make grammar the centre of your learning and avoid waiting to start speaking until your grammar ‘is absolutely perfect’.
Don’t wait! You can only learn to speak a language by actually speaking it, not by memorising endless grammar rules.
Keeping your mouth shut and avoiding every possible chance to practice speaking the language will really slow your progress.
In the beginning, you only need a few of the basic grammar rules to start speaking, and even if you make mistakes, you can often still manage to put your message across.
5. Unrealistic Expectations (Big Language Learning Mistake!)
Learning a foreign language takes time – there is no way around it. You can’t master your target language in a couple of months or even a year (although it can be enough to go up a level).
If you hear that someone reached fluency in their target language after just one year of learning, they’re quite possibly exaggerating, unless, of course, they did a huge amount of studying during that year. They might also have a very different idea to yours of what being fluent in a foreign language actually means.
Be patient. Don’t expect to reach fluency (in every domain) after just a few months of learning. Set realistic goals, track your progress, and acknowledge your achievements. Doing so really will help you to stay motivated on your language learning journey.
Read more on being clear about what fluency means to you as well as setting SMART language learning goals here.
6. Believing Immersion Only Possible When Living Abroad
Decades ago, you might have had to travel abroad to truly immerse yourself in your target language. Nowadays, the Internet and modern technology allow you to do it not just without leaving your country but without leaving the comfort of your home.
Surround yourself with your target language: watch movies and TV shows in it, read news, listen to music and to the radio… Online, you can find speaking partners from all over the world to practice your target language with, as well as tons of great language learning resources. You can even switch the language on your PC or smartphone to have even more exposure to your target language.
The idea is to use the language you are learning as much as possible in different areas of your life – you don’t have to travel abroad to do it.
That said, here at Q Language, we obviously encourage and promote our immersive language courses with great vigour.
If, for example, you’d like to study Intensive English, Mandarin or Cantonese, we offer full-time study programs at our Hong Kong Centre with Hong Kong student visa sponsorship included.
The courses are based on either 24 hours per week or 15 hours per week.
For full details, visit our main course pages:
7. Skills Imbalance
We mentioned above that you shouldn’t focus too much on grammar, but in fact, it can be said about any language aspect or skill. Language aspects are interconnected and support each other: you need at least some vocabulary to practice your grammar, you can’t learn to write without learning to read or learn to speak without learning to listen.
To truly master your target language and be able to communicate in any situation that may arise, make sure to devote more or less equal time to all language aspects and skills. Even if you believe that you will need one skill much more than others, don’t neglect them – you never know, what can happen, and your future self will be very grateful to you for balanced language skills.