How Not to Learn a Foreign Language

How not to learn a foreign language

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you. 

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!


  1. I read this post with a lot of interest! I like learning languages, I speak fluently three languages and am busy learning more. For my partner, learning languages is his passion! And it is super interesting to see how he learns and keeps up with it. I recognized a lot of his tips in this post. One has to start with learning the basics and the most useful words (so you get the feeling you’re able to already speak the language 😉 ). And yes, talking is the most important part of the learning process! We have just finished teaching English on a summer camp. Most kids know a lot of grammar from school but they had a hard time putting their knowledge into practice. That’s why we focused on speaking during the whole camp.

    • Thanks! I always appreciate my fellow language learners 🙂 You might be interested in my language learning Facebook group exclusive to my subscribers! Think about it, you never know what connections you’ll make 😉

  2. your #1 point interested me. I have been learning Spanish for five months now and I hardly remember any grammar rules and use flash cards to remember new vocab. What my instructor (she’s from Peru) does is that she just encourage us to speak in class and ask us not to worry about textbook and grammar, and if we do not know or remember something, she will just repeat and then we will soon remember. She also suggest us to watch Spanish movies, and join some speaking groups. I believe expose ourselves to the language environment and speak more is the way to go.

    • I agree! It’s so easy to fall into the trap of depending on textbooks and flashcards because they’re not only easy and how we’re used to studying, but we don’t have to face our fears of speaking in a foreign language. Problem is, you can learn all the vocab and grammar you want, but as soon as you stick yourself in a conversation, you won’t get very far!

Leave a Reply