1 – TOO MUCH WORRIED ABOUT MAKING MISTAKES
I remember the first time I had to speak French with a native speaker. It was November 2002, my first month in Geneva, Switzerland.
I was in a thrift store and I got so afraid of making mistakes and looking silly, that I asked a friend that was beside me to ask a simple question: “Do you sell gloves here”? To my surprise, he said “No! If you want to learn, you must lose the fear of speaking.”
So, I did it, and you know what? I stuttered, I got nervous but I expressed myself. And incredible as it may seem, I felt stupid and at the same time very proud of me! And from that day on, I began taking all the chances I had to practice my French.
Keep that in mind: you make mistakes in your native language, so, why should you be perfect at learning a second language?
Relax! Making mistakes is part of the learning process. We become more resilient as we replace the aspiration for perfection with a humble desire to learn and grow from our experience.
2 – LEARNING RANDOM VOCABULARY
When learning new words, it’s very important that you don’t learn them in isolation, out of context.
Memorizing lists of loose words like names of colors, animals, fruits etc, is not productive at all, because you won’t learn how these words are used as a whole with other words and will soon forget them.
Context is king when learning new words and their multiple meanings and usages. There is no better shortcut than getting a lot of exposure to a variety of content and contexts. The more you expose yourself to the language, the more likely you will stumble upon a given word used in different ways, having different functions, meanings or fitting within certain expressions.
By learning new words this way, you increase your vocabulary and your familiarity with the language, knowing the meaning of words and how they are used in the language.
If you use this approach, your brain will naturally pick up, diversify and integrate all this with time, exposure, and practice.
3 – LACK OF CONSISTENCY AND COMMITMENT
Have you really committed to learning the language you want to be fluent in? Have you made a promise to yourself? Most people want to learn a language but with no commitment. If you also act this way, you’re more likely to procrastinate, put off your learning sessions and make slower progress.
A good hint is learning in short bursts every day because besides creating the habit, it keeps the language fresh in your mind. When you start skipping days, you’re more likely to make excuses and skip even more.
Learning a foreign language has to be a constant process. It shouldn’t have too many ups and downs, where you study one day, and you don’t for two days, or you study one day a week… But it must be an everyday commitment, or at least 5 days a week.
Learning a language should become a daily habit, a part of your routine, a part of your day that you don’t want to miss. Taking breaks or days off is okay, because maybe you are busy, because you go on holiday, because you just need time off… But these off days should be the exception, not the norm.
4 – NOT LISTENING IN THE RIGHT WAY
Language learning is composed of 4 skills: speaking, writing, reading and listening.
Listening is the most important part of the process. Why? Because first we listen, speaking comes after. We all learn by copying, and the only way you can copy a language is by listening to someone speak it.
And if you want to speak correctly, you must listen correctly, or rather, you must listen to the correct resources. Run away from language textbooks with artificial sounding and pre-fabricated conversations that bear little resemblance to how actual native speakers talk in real life.
Don’t hesitate to get exposed to sounds of the language as much as you can listening and watching different resources: music, tv, movies, radio, the news, etc…
5 – OBSESSION FOR MEANINGS
Most beginning language learners get all fussed about it and feel like they have to know every single word they come across before passing on to something else. This creates a blockage and makes their life miserable, because they will never know all the definition for each word.
So, what you should do is to remain flexible and open to uncertainty. Get into the habit of guessing the meaning of new words from context. Don’t worry, you’ll eventually learn them through repeated exposure, in different contexts and circumstances.
There is a statistical principle about that: if a word is important within a speech, it will appear more often and soon we’ll be able to understand its meaning.
6 – TRANSLATING CONCEPTS DIRECTLY
Keep Always this in mind: languages are different from each other and you simply can’t translate particular words and expressions directly.
When you start learning a foreign language, you need to forget about whatever patterns or expressions you got used to employing in your native tongue, especially if you’re learning a language from a different family. Get used to absorbing new patterns and expressions without always referring back to your mother tongue.
The differences become more evident when we try to compare idioms and popular proverbs. The secret here is to accept the differences and focus on the meaning, not on the structure itself.
7 – FOCUS ON GRAMMAR
You don’t need grammar to speak a language. Grammar is useful for making a language sound correct, but not for actually getting started.
Sometimes it helps to clarify some points, but you shouldn’t make it a priority. Skip it and come back to it later, after you have already gained the confidence with the essential structures and gotten a feeling for the language in a real context.
That’s how children learn grammar, by listening and repeating the sound patterns they hear other people say, beginning with 1 word or utterance and gradually moving up to small sentences.
You didn’t become a fluent speaker of your own language by studying its grammar. Natives don’t tend to learn grammar of their own languages until much later in life, and that’s only really an issue in formal contexts like writing.
We only begin studying grammar (the age of 6, in school), after being already a fluent speaker of our native language. We knew how to use verbs in different tenses before you even knew what a verb was.
So, if children can learn a language and its grammar in this way, what’s stopping adults from doing the same or something similar?