The three biggest mistakes people make when learning a language

Learning a new language is a popular New Year’s Resolution. I’m sure you’ve seen it in many lists or have heard it mentioned in conversation. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of resolution that people find hard to continue with – or easy to forget about.

I’ve been learning German for eight years. I wouldn’t say I’m a natural linguist, so I know how difficult it is to stick at language learning. My progress hasn’t been as fast as I initially thought it would be.

I’m not only a language learner, though – I became an English teacher six years ago. I’ve taught hundreds of students – and I’ve noticed that the ones who make the most progress share similar characteristics.

The good news is that these attributes aren’t necessarily about being a ‘natural linguist’ – but there are certain things you need to avoid doing. Read on to reveal the three biggest mistakes people make when learning a language.

  1. Using apps and programmes that offer shortcuts

They’re not all bad – the vocabulary app Quizlet is used by teachers and students alike, for example. I’m talking here about apps that offer you ‘shortcuts’ and the promise of learning a language in ten minutes a day. I’ve never seen or heard of anyone using such apps beyond a month. In my opinion, there’s a reason for this – shortcut apps don’t teach you the skills to successfully take on a language. Learning to get the gist of something (understanding a sentence without knowing every word) and understanding the grammar framework in every language are the tools you need to help you progress. You’ll get that from a language lesson – but not from an app.

  1. Being a passenger in a language course

I recommend taking weekly lessons – a one-to-one is best, if you have the money. However, don’t just think that just turning up in a classroom will magically transform your language. Let me give you some examples. Student A was sent to me by his company and had two one-to-one lessons a week. I did everything I could to help him (in other words, doing everything for him), but language learning for Student A was like a light switch in his head – he switched it on when he entered the room, and he switched it off when he left. Student B took the concepts I taught and not only learnt them, but played around with them, spoke using them, wrote them into sentences, came back with questions. Can you guess which one progressed the most? Remember – a language lesson is the equivalent of putting fuel in your car. Take control of your language learning – put your hands on the steering wheel!

  1. Being focused on the goal and not the journey

Again, some ‘goals’ are not necessarily bad and sometimes required – language exams such as Cambridge are needed to study at universities and for immigration purposes. I’m referring to language trainers who use techniques to visualise the end result and promise to unlock your full potential. They make it sound like it’s a finite process, like fixing a car or baking a cake. They ask you to put your trust in them to reach your imaginary end goal.

Are you ready for the truth? You will never stop learning a language. Fact.

If you had done all the training needed, say, two years ago to run a marathon – does this mean you could suddenly jump up from your sofa and run a marathon today? No – you have to maintain your fitness levels. It’s the same with a language – you have to keep working at it. Is it a bad thing to never stop learning, though? Of course not! It’s a wonderful journey! The joy of discovering the sounds of new words, of finding different ways of saying things, and the depth of intercultural understanding you will gain as a result of it. It’ll keep your brain in good working order, too! Don’t live for the pay off – live in the moment of learning a language.

Remember – don’t be tempted by apps that promise shortcuts or to make it easy for you – take language lessons instead. Don’t think that being present in a classroom is enough – take ownership of your learning. Finally, keep at it! Live in the moment and enjoy the journey.

So, how do you start improving your business English?

Well, that’s where I can help you. I worked in a variety of industries in the UK (have a look at my LinkedIn profile) so I’m happy to share my knowledge of business English with you. Contact me here.

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