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Five most common mistakes people make when learning a foreign language

Today I’m going to talk something I see all the time in my teaching practice. Full disclosure, this is purely based on my opinion. I was inspired to write about this subject after reading two different articles on the matter. My focus is English but, everything I will say here applies to any language you might want to learn. Without further ado, those are the most common mistakes people make when learning a foreign language.

1. Not listening enough

In my opinion, this is the main one. Listening is extremely important but, many students neglect it. When we were learning our first language, we did at least 20,000 hours of listening before we started reading and writing. Acquiring a foreign language is no different.

When we were learning our first language, there was a stage we all went through called "silent period." We first listened for a while, and then we started talking. The same thing happens when we are learning a foreign language. This phase may take more time depending on the person, you will need to be patient. Listening also provides repetition that helps reinforce vocabulary, structures, and language patterns.

Listening is the thing we do most in communication. We spend on average 50% of our time listening and 25% speaking. We dedicate only 25% for reading and writing. However, most people try to acquire languages by using those two things. No wonder so many fail at it.

Ideally, we would spend some time living overseas because it is the most efficient way of doing it. Unfortunately, not everyone will have this opportunity. What should you do then? Use the internet. You won't have trouble finding listening material in it: music, podcasts, movies, TV series, news, Youtube. The possibilities are endless. Practice as much as you can and don't worry if you're not able to understand everything. You are training your ears. Learning a language is very similar to learning to play a musical instrument. The more you practice, the better you will be at it. And one day you will do it automatically. The same thing happens when learning a language.

2. Approaching learning as homework.

Many of us think learning a language is restricted to attending classes and doing homework. You must understand learning is far beyond books and the classroom. The more you expose yourself to it the better (remember what I said about listening). Be independent and seek knowledge from different sources other than your teacher. I've met people who learnt English by playing video games and watching TV shows. There are many tools at our disposal, so use them. Learning can be fun and a lot easier than you think.

3. Lack of curiosity.

It seems obvious, but students who are interested in the culture of the language they are studying can learn it faster. Curiosity leads to searching for music, books, movies, TV programs in the target language. And because of that, they end up exposing themselves more. On the other hand, lack of curiosity and preconceived ideas can hinder one's progress.

4. Rigid thinking.

Those who have a low tolerance for ambiguity tend to suffer more when it comes to learning a foreign language. Some languages are more ambiguous than others (in my opinion English takes the cake).

For every new vocabulary and grammar structures you learn, there will be an exception. If you get easily frustrated and disoriented when stumbling upon those ambiguities, you will have trouble learning. Many people give up because of it. Be patient and chill out. Languages are the way they are, and there's nothing you can do about it.

5. Lack of self-confidence and fear.

Have you ever heard the saying "you are your worst enemy"? Case in point, we hinder our progress by believing languages are too difficult and boring. Or we don't speak for fear of being judged for making mistakes. Whether lack of self-confidence or fear is causing this behaviour, the results will be the same. You are going to get frustrated and, that can make you give it up. According to hypnotherapists, our mind's job is to avoid pain and suffering at all cost, whether if it is real or not. My advice for you is to try to steer your mind to a positive direction.

Every time you realise you are having negative thoughts, try to replace them for things like: "I can learn", "English is easy", "I'm very good at learning languages" etc. Your subconscious mind does not know the difference reality or fantasy, everything you think or say your mind will believe in you. This technique is going to help you boost your confidence and reduce your fear. Do this, and learning languages will no longer cause suffering.

Well, that's it, those are the mistakes I have seen working as an English teacher. I hope this post helped you somehow in your journey to become fluent in whatever language you are learning. If you see yourself making any of these mistakes, don't be discouraged because it's never too late to change. Acquiring a foreign language is not an easy task since it demands a lot of discipline and self-awareness.

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Till next time.



Recommended reading:

Ultimate Confidence: The Secrets to Feeling Great About Yourself Every Day - By Marisa Peer