The 5 Most Common Mistakes in Learning a New Foreign Language

You approach the process of foreign language learning with great enthusiasm, at least at the beginning. As you move through the program, it starts getting more challenging. From the first moment that foreign language learners face the road blocks, they start making common mistakes.

Fortunately, it’s possible to avoid these mistakes. The important thing is to recognize them. We’ll list 5 common mistakes that most people make when trying to learn a new language. Needless to say, we’ll also tell you how to avoid or overcome them.

  1. Setting unrealistic goals. You’d love to learn French because your main goal is to read the Les Miserables as Victor Hugo wrote it, even though you’re a complete beginner? That’s a great goal. However, if you set a goal like “I’ll be able to start reading Les Miserables in three months if I start today,” you’re in for a big disappointment. Setting unrealistic goals leads to several other mistakes along the way of language learning. First of all, you’ll try to rush through the lessons. You’ll stop paying attention to grammar, thinking you’ll get it by intuition if you just learn more words. It’s important to be ambitious. However, being too ambitious is a mistake. Make a realistic plan and start making small steps every single day. That’s the only way to avoid this mistake.
  2. Neglecting the importance of writing. Many language learners believe that the spoken and written language is different, so they are trying to master them separately. Naturally, they usually focus on speaking, since they want to use the foreign language in conversations. They don’t bother writing properly and they tend to skip the writing assignments. This is a big mistake. If you really want to learn a language, you’ll have to master both speaking and writing skills. Writing is great because it helps you focus on grammar and sentence structure.
  3. Not speaking. Some people avoid writing, and others avoid speaking. They’ve been learning the language for decades and they’ve mastered grammar and vocabulary pretty well. Still, they are not able to get into a conversation with a native speaker. Native speakers are too fast for them. When they don’t get the time to think before they respond, their mind is blocked. They know the language, but they lack the practice. How can you avoid this pitfall? There’s only one proper way to approach language learning: combine writing and speaking! If you’re already deep into the learning process and you realize you’ve been neglecting the speaking part, then start practicing! Watch some TV shows or YouTube videos in your target language and repeat what you hear. Try to respond to the actors. Connect with native speakers and talk to them via Skype. It takes time to break out of your shell, but you’ll do it!
  4. Translating in your mind. This is called the translation trap, and it’s a common mistake in foreign language learning. When you start learning new words, you naturally translate them in your own language. This turns into a habit, so you keep translating in your mind as you make progress. It’s a bad habit. It makes you slower in learning. Before you can respond to someone in the foreign language, you have to translate what they said, plan the answer in your native language, translate it in your mind, and then respond. Clearly, that’s just wrong. You have to start thinking in the foreign language! That’s the only way to master it. You’ll avoid this mistake only when you realize you’re making it. When you catch yourself translating in your mind, stop. Try to think in the foreign language. Turn that into a daily practice and it will slowly become a habit.
  5. Failing to evaluate progress. When you’re learning a new language, you’re mostly focused on the presence. Are you able to respond to a straightforward question? Are you able to order a meal in a restaurant? That kind of evaluation is necessary. However, it’s also necessary to pay attention to the progress you’re making. Many learners forget to do that. When they choke in a restaurant, they get disappointed, thinking they haven’t learned enough. But they know more than they used to know when they began learning the language. So make sure to evaluate the progress. Take tests to prove to yourself that your skills are improving. Keep a journal of the new words and grammar rules you learn, so you’ll see how you’re learning something new with every lesson.

When you start avoiding and overcoming these mistakes, you’ll be closer to your goal of mastering the foreign language.

Chris Richardson is a journalist, editor, and a blogger. He loves to write, learn new things, and meet new outgoing people. Chris is also fond of traveling, sports, and playing the guitar. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.