How not to learn a foreign language
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Learning a new language is hard. It takes a lot of commitment, passion, and courage. Many people make an attempt or two, but never get past that initial “wow, learning a language looks so amazing!”. If you've gotten past the honeymoon stage of language learning, fantastic! If you haven't (or, even if you have), here's how not to learn a foreign language - you'd be surprised how you're hurting yourself.
1. Not speaking the language
I know, I know, that’s so clearly how not to learn a foreign language, right? Truth be told, I'm shy, even in English. So, when you add things like “my accent is terrible!” “am I saying this right?” and “they're going to know I'm not a local”, may as well sew my mouth shut! Of course, there's no way for you to learn a language if you don't use it! Sorry, there is literally no way to get around this one.
In fact, I'd argue that speaking is the most important thing you need to learn to really achieve fluency. Yes, grammar is important. Writing, reading: yes and yes. But language is first and foremost spoken; children learn to speak before they learn to read, right?
If you're planning on an immersion trip, one of the best ways to get comfortable speaking, I like to use Verbling to get in a little conversation practice before throwing myself into a foreign language. If you're uncomfortable speaking a foreign language, you can use Verbling to start learning a foreign language from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Click here to learn more about this awesome resource.
2. Thinking negatively
Point blank, take it easy on yourself. I'm going to tell you right now that nobody else cares when you mess up words or can't understand another speaker the first time. So don't worry! Locals don't care! They love when you try to speak their language! Want to know how not to learn a foreign language? Be negative. You're only hurting yourself!
Instead, celebrate the smaller achievements. Be proud of yourself for even trying. Just because you don't have the time or energy to study for 3 hours a day every day, doesn't mean you can't do something. All it takes is a little poke at your brain once a day to get the juices flowing, and you'll be amazed how much you can learn.
3. Nose in the books
There is some very important information to be learned from a textbook. Depending on your specific language learning goals, you'll need to attack it from different angles. If you're like me and you study for fluency, a textbook is very important. It's the best place to find grammar rules and all the vocabulary you could ever dream of. However, language learning is a multi-strategy kind of thing. Speak a little here, listen a little there.
4. Too much memorization
Like everything else, there is some memorization involved in language learning. That doesn't mean, though, that your best bet is to sit at a desk for three hours flipping through flash cards - not only is this a major language learning mistake, but it's just boring.
Especially as you get into more advanced vocabulary, the best thing you could do is put what you're learning into action. That is absolutely, 100%, no doubt about it the best way to learn those words. Find a language partner, sit down, and tell them what subject you want to talk about.
5. Learning too quickly
I started learning Spanish with the goal of a fluency level (based on the DELE fluency levels) every month. That worked really well for me...for about a month. Then I got stressed, then I got sick, and then it was a month later and I hadn't been able to even look at any Spanish!
Remember, it takes children several years to master their own language, and they still need to go to school to learn to speak properly. Don't push yourself too hard or you'll burn out. This language learning mistake will ruin any motivation for you to try again.
At the end of the day, learning another language is a skill, just like anything else. It means training your brain to do something it's never done before, which takes time and strategy. That being said, there's how not to learn a foreign language, and there's how to wear yourself out and never do it again. Learn from my experience!