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Five common mistakes when learning a language

Tuesday, 10 October 2017 / Published in Teaching Strategies
<b>Five common mistakes when learning a language<b/>

If you are learning a language, or planning to learn a language, get ready for a challenging, sometimes frustrating but consistently rewarding experience. Different learning techniques work for different people, and it can sometimes be beneficial to mix and match how you learn, particularly if you reach a stubborn plateau. But some things are true for all language learners. With this in mind, here are five common language learning mistakes and how you can avoid them:

1. Not giving yourself the right foundation
If you get off on the wrong foot with a language, you are likely to develop bad habits which are hard to shake further down the line. It is very important that you learn the basics of a language – mainly the grammar and that you iron out misunderstandings before moving on. If this involves spending some time and money with a good teacher, consider it an excellent investment that you will benefit from for the rest of your life.

2. Translating concepts directly
Different languages approach concepts differently. For example, in English something “is fun”, in German it “makes fun”. In English you “like it” whereas in Spanish “it pleases you”. In English you “have arrived”, in French you “are arrived”. Small differences but important ones if you want to become fluent in a language. These are the kinds of things that a teacher can help you understand – particularly one who speaks your first language and the one you are learning.

3. Being “afraid” of grammar
You already understand grammar very well, which is why you can speak English fluently. However, unless you have studied language, you may not be familiar with terms like pronoun, adverb, indefinite article and so on. They can be intimidating, particularly as they describe things that you use all the time without giving it a second thought.
You can’t learn a language without learning its grammar, but you don’t need to know grammatical terms to learn a language; you need to know what role the words you are learning play in a sentence. When you understand what role the words play (finding an equivalent in English may help at first), you can use them accurately.

4. Not focusing on pronunciation
All spoken languages depend on pronunciation for meaning, to varying extents. In tonal languages, words are differentiated by whether the tone rises or falls. Even in English, there is a difference between, for example, happy content and content of a book (linguists call these heteronyms).
Really listen to the way that native speakers pronounce the words you are learning. There may be sounds in the language you are learning that do not exist in English – for example the rolled r in Spanish. This is quite an easy one to spot and practice, but also watch out for more subtle pronunciation differences. Staying with Spanish, the t sound at the start of a word is pronounced somewhere between an English t and d… the tongue is in a different shape when making the sound. Notice the small differences and your pronunciation will benefit. In turn, people will find you much easier to understand.

5. Not persisting
The first part of learning a new language is the hardest. When you are really struggling to put a sentence together, it is mentally straining! But persistence is rewarded. And if you think that you are “not good with languages”, remember that the large majority of the world’s people, including many who have little access to formal education, are multilingual. If they can, you can.

Bonus Pro Tip: Don’t undervalue conjunctive adverbs
Con-what-what-what-verbs? These are the words like however, anyway, meanwhile, etc., that connect two different ideas in speech or writing. Learning them will make you sound much more fluent in the language you are learning. They show cause and effect, sequence, contrast, comparison, or other relationships. When you think about what makes “good” writing or discourse, it is the flow of the ideas and sentences into each other that creates real fluency.

Put the time into learning twenty of the most common conjunctive adverbs in the language you are learning, alongside nouns and verbs, and your fluency will benefit hugely.