What do you associate with New Year’s Eve? Fun, champagne and… good intentions? Do you still remember what you resolved to do last year? Learning a new language probably ranked right up there with joining a gym and giving up a nasty habit. Regardless of the reasons you had for making this resolution, the result is – unfortunately – almost always the same. After the first days at “full speed ahead”, by spring the motivation has subsided and you find yourself staring discontentedly at the grammar books you bought with such enthusiasm.
But why? Why does everyone think that it’s so hard to learn a language? And that it requires so much time to practice? Could it be because we all have a few bad habits that we’re not aware of (and therefore can’t get rid of)?
Let’s take a look at the most common mistakes and figure out how we can avoid them.
1. Take it slow
When the adventure of a new language starts, your enthusiasm knows no bounds. On the one hand, that’s something very positive. On the other hand, it’s important not to rely on enthusiasm alone. When the newness and initial excitement has worn off, you might not know where to find the motivation to learn. That’s why it’s necessary to steer your initial exuberance in the right direction, and not let it disappear like a flash in the pan. It’s better to take it slow – tame your enthusiasm and make sure that learning a language becomes a regular daily activity.
Otherwise something like this might happen: You’ll study every day for the first week. Already in the second week you’ll skip a day because you’re too tired. The following week it happens again, and then again the week after that. Soon, you’ll be staring, frustrated, at that pile of language books on your desk.
Our Tip: Steer your initial exuberance in the right direction and make sure that learning a language becomes a regular daily activity. Ten minutes a day is better than full-on for a week and then nothing after that.
2. The benefits of a bad memory
No, we’re not crazy. We’re talking to all those people who think that memorization is the key to everything, to everyone who boasts about their photographic memory, and to everyone who gets stuck on vocabulary lists. Don’t get us wrong: a good memory is definitely helpful, but one should not forget (no pun intended) to use and train it the right way.
Memorizing entire phrases can be helpful in certain, clearly-defined situations (like picking up your luggage at the airport, for example). But it won’t be of any benefit when topics come up in conversation that weren’t in that book you so diligently memorized.
Use your memory and make it your ally. Learn phrases and words with which you can make associations or create mnemonic devices. And when a word doesn’t seem to want to come out, find an alternative or paraphrase what you mean. In this way, you don’t only get your synapses firing, but you can also remember things better and for longer periods of time. Try it for yourself!
Our Tip: Your memory is an important ally if you use it intelligently.
3. Nobody’s perfect
No one is perfect… and you shouldn’t try to be! One of the first obstacles you encounter on the path to “fluent mastery” of a language is the absurd and premature demand you place on yourself to speak with perfect and error-free pronunciation and grammar. Of course, you can and will get there with a lot of practice, but it shouldn’t be the highest priority when you’re getting to know a completely new language.
If you get lost in especially complicated grammar when you’re trying to say something simple, or if you’re only sure of yourself when you don’t make even the smallest pronunciation mistakes, then it’s highly likely that within a few weeks, you’ll give up out of total frustration.
“Until I can speak perfectly, I won’t speak. But if I don’t speak, I’ll never improve and can give up hope of ever being able to speak perfectly”. It’s a Catch 22!
Our Tip: Give yourself a break and don’t be afraid to make mistakes! You’ll soon see the progress that’ll bring you closer to your goal.
4. All work and no play…
It’s exactly you – so tirelessly and steadfastly learning – who we’re speaking to here:
Are you finally going to get up out of that chair, or do you want to put down roots right where you’re sitting? You’re diligent and persistent. You’ve used your memory and your desire to learn in the best way possible. You’ve trusted yourself to speak to people because you understand that we all learn from making mistakes. And now? Now it’s time to give yourself a reward!
When you set such a big goal as learning a new language, it’s important now and then to pat yourself on the back and enjoy the success you’ve achieved. You’ve managed to have your first real-life conversation? You’ve got all that difficult pronunciation down? You’ve gotten through the jungle of pronouns? Then you should celebrate it and do something fun! Watch a film, sing a song at the top of your lungs, or listen to the radio… but, of course, in the language you’re learning! When you couple language learning with activities that bring you joy, you’ll learn more effectively and remember what you’ve learned more easily.
Our Tip: You don’t have to learn like a crazy person. There should also be time to combine the enjoyable with the practical, and have fun while learning!
5. The goal is always within sight
Learn the art of always keeping your goal within sight. Of course, anyone could say that learning for learning’s sake is the ideal picture of education… that goes without saying. But if you want to reach the end of the road, it’s important that you’re aware of why you stepped onto the path in the first place.
Why are you learning a new language? For love? To get a raise? Because you want to try your luck in a new country? Because you can’t stand films that are dubbed? Very good. Keep your goal in sight and imagine that with every tiny step forward, the path to your goal gets shorter and the top of the mountain gets closer.
Our Tip: Keeping a goal in sight increases motivation. Before you start, set a goal!