Polyglots and language enthusiasts take on new foreign languages, not necessarily because they are intellectually gifted but because they have the patience and the motivation to learn. However, just like how toddlers tumble and fall while learning how to walk, they continue to learn from their experience.
Here are five common mistakes that language learners often make, and ways to correct them:
1. Fear of embarrassment
Language learners often let the fear of embarrassment hold them back. Students are afraid of messing up the grammar, syntax, and pronunciation of foreign words.
Waiting for things to be “perfect” before attempting to speak the new language can hinder their learning. One way to overcome this is to simply accept that making a mistake is normal and to be expected. This is perfectly fine, especially if you’re learning something new. And no matter how many years you’ve been trying to learn a new language, even more experienced polyglots can make mistakes.
2. Not listening enough
When babies pick up their mother tongue, they observe the mouths of their caregivers, listen to the sounds, and parrot words. The same thing applies to polyglots who are trying to learn a new language: you listen; you first learn by hearing. When you don’t listen enough, your learning is poorly reinforced.
Strive to accommodate learning techniques that reinforce listening in your daily life, such as listening to audio files, being around native speakers, and watching foreign TV shows or movies. The more you’re exposed to the foreign language, the more you will see patterns in the language, which makes it easier for you to learn.
3. Focusing on one learning method
There is no single, surefire way to learning a new language. You need more than just an app, textbook, or audio file. When you focus on just one learning method, you are limiting your chances to practice other various skills.
It is wise for language learners to use multiple learning methods that touch on the four language learning skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. While some language classes provide all of these, you need to complement your learning with activities that encourage you to use the new language, such as getting a language buddy you can learn together with or joining online communities to meet with other language learners.
4. Limiting your learning to a classroom setting
Just as we previously mentioned, it’s a mistake to rely solely on a classroom when learning a new language. Keeping a rigid 2- or 4-hour schedule a day to study a new foreign language is simply not enough. It takes commitment. And limiting your learning within the four corners of a classroom won’t help you retain what you’ve learned.
Make an effort to learn and use the foreign language outside of a formal class setting. Surround yourself with opportunities to listen to the new language and speak it as often as possible. Travel, get to know native speakers, listen to foreign songs, or watch foreign films without subtitles. Or if you must use subtitles, use them in your target language. Do whatever seems to work best for you.
5. Not being interested in the culture
Language learners try to take on a foreign tongue for a lot of reasons. Whatever your reasons are, if you are not interested in the culture of the new language you’re trying to learn, you won’t be able to appreciate the language. Being a polyglot is not simply learning many foreign languages; it’s being passionate about different cultures and living the language.
The key to overcome this mistake is to know your motivation in learning. Be open to learning about the culture behind that language. Cultural context can help you understand the language better, and it will also help you retain the knowledge and skills you’ve learned for a longer period of time.
Aside from the five common mistakes we just went over, there could be several other mistakes language learners make. Whatever they are, just know that it’s a normal part of the learning process. Learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward. Learning two or more languages isn’t impossible if you have the heart for it.