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Spanish Practice Club Blog - How to learn Spanish language
Spanish Practice Club Blog - How to learn Spanish language

The 11 biggest mistakes language learners make

March 09, 202312 min read

“A complicated structure? Undoubtedly. But after all, the cathedral of Milan is complicated too, and you still look at it with awe.”- Kató Lomb

The 11 biggest mistakes language learners make

Spanish Practice Club - How to learn Spanish

“How to learn a second language” has over three billion search results on Google. The world is more connected than ever before and language apps, tips to learn a language, online tutoring and classes are available at your fingertips. However, when you learn a language online and self-direct your study it’s easy to pick up some bad habits.

Through my personal learning experience and many years in education, I’ve noted a few common mistakes clients make when learning a new language.

Here are 11 common mistakes people make when learning a new language and some helpful tips to keep you in a good mindset.

Believing it has to be difficult

If you’ve never learned another language before, the thought of it is probably intimidating.

While language learning is many things, believing that it is intrinsically “hard” is one of the biggest mistakes I see with language learners.

Does it take time and focused commitment? Absolutely! Can it be scary and intimidating? Sure! But is it “hard”? Not necessarily.

Your mindset and attitude towards language learning are the biggest factors in how difficult or easy a language will be to learn.

The truth is, the difficulty doesn’t lie within the language itself, but in the study methods and materials you use, and your attitude towards the language. Adapt your approach to be like a scientist testing out new theorems. Find the methods that work best for you instead of committing yourself to one that is familiar, but ineffective.

How to fix your mindset about language learning

Start learning from a place of curiosity. This makes a language an adventure, not an obligation.

Your brain is a muscle you can train. Use daily affirmations to train your brain to think the right way and help you make progress with your goal.

Don’t aim for perfection or use excuses such as bad luck or bad genes or my teacher told me I wasn´t good at languages.

Focus on short-term tangible goals and seek out language learning methods and hacks that can cut hours off your study time and make language learning easy.

Not giving yourself enough time or importance

How long does it take to learn a new language?

It depends.

If your native language is English, it will take you a longer time to learn Mandarin than Spanish in practical terms.

How important is it that you learn a language?

It also depends on you.

  • Where does the desire to learn a language come from?

  • Why is it important that you learn it?

  • Are you self-motivated?

  • What does your strategy look like?

  • Are you committed to it?

Those will all affect how long it takes you to make progress. Learning a language is a lifelong project. If you don't use it, you lose it. That's why it's important that you understand the commitment you are making as well as the benefits it will bring to your life. Is it worth your time, energy and money?

Having vague goals

A lot of the language learning material online focuses on how to become fluent in a certain amount of time. Instead of focusing on a proficiency level you want to reach, think about what you want to do in your target language, why you’re interested in it in the first place and when you would like to reach a certain level by.

Do you want to go on a trip to a country that speaks the language? Do you want to be able to watch movies without subtitles? Are there certain books you want to read in their original language? Would learning the language have career benefits? Those are all goals that will be much more helpful for keeping you on track than “I want to be fluent.”

Misunderstanding how you acquire a language

What’s the easiest way to learn a language? That depends on how you learn best.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Think about how you like to learn:

  • Do you remember things best by reading, listening, watching, or doing?

  • How good are you at memorisation?

  • How much structure do you need to thrive?

  • How much accountability and support you need to make progress?

  • How much consistency do you need to see results within the timeframe you have given yourself?

Unless you are studying for a specific exam, burying your head in a book will actually slow down your language learning progress.

One of the biggest mistakes I see language learners make is believing that studying languages is about acquiring knowledge. Newsflash: it’s not!

Learning a new language is about building a communication skill.

Like any skill, you have to use it to improve it. Don’t get so mired in the study of a language that you forget the whole reason you’re doing this — to communicate with people around the world!

Getting discouraged by your mistakes

Let’s start with the basics. Mistakes are ok — in fact, they are necessary. Mistakes are an essential part of learning languages (or learning anything, really). So don’t beat yourself up about them.

Think about it. There’s no way that you can reach fluency without making lots and lots (and lots) of mistakes. It’s utterly impossible. So why even try to avoid them? Instead, embrace being a beginner and accept that it means you’ll feel out of your comfort zone for a while.

The purpose of making mistakes it to learn from them. An excellent strategy is to learn your lesson as quickly as possible and move on, better and stronger than you were before.

If your experience of learning a language is filled with stressful emotions you’re much more likely to give up. By avoiding speaking until you can say things “perfectly”, you’ll silence yourself. Worrying too much about being perfect will paralyze you.

Always remember that mistakes are the gateway to improvement and are essential to our development. Without mistakes your progress will stall.

How to fix making mistakes when learning a language

Learn to love your mistakes.

At the very least, learn to learn from your mistakes. At the end of each day take a few moments to write down the mistakes you made with your language learning. Then, next to each mistake write what you learned from the mistake and how you can improve your process the next time around. After a while your mind will naturally start to shift from being stressed out about your mistakes to looking at them as an opportunity for improvement.

I have a very easy-going attitude with mistakes in language learning. They are so necessary that I have a goal to make at least 100 mistakes a day when I’m in my most intensive learning mode! By saying things wrong 100 times, I know I’m using the language, and I know I’m learning how to say them right as fast as possible.

Not asking for help

The point of learning a language is to communicate with other people, yet certain self-directed language learners take pride in “doing it on their own”… to their own detriment.

It's ok to start on your own however, it isn't the best strategy if you are serious about it.

Think about it. Would a tennis player who wants to become a tennis coach learn to play tennis on his own? He may start on his own but at some point you are going to need help from other human beings in order to learn.

That could be a tutor, a conversation partner, members of an online community, or even people you know from your life who speak the language.

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Not starting with the sounds

Learning any new language will involve saying sounds your mouth isn’t used to. Some people skip over understanding which letters make which sounds in which context and have trouble later. Take for example the Spanish double RR.

That is why it is important to start with listening, repeating and recording your voice at first. Don’t put off working on listening and speaking because you think you have to be good at reading it first.

Thinking you'll never pronounce it right

Every language will have its own unique sound. Some of the more exotic languages can have sounds that you are not used to making.

When I was learning French, I wasn't used to the soft sounds of the language and often made myself laugh when speaking in class...

It isn’t that certain words are hard to pronounce, but that your native language doesn't include these sounds and therefore you just need to learn them just like babies learn natural sounds from hearing their parents and surroundings.

As mentioned before, my personal tip to get it right from the beginning is to listen, repeat, record and playback. Using your mobile phone, this tip is as easy as it's ever going to get.

Not building sentence vocabulary and thinking in direct translation instead

Building sentences is an essential part of learning a new language.

There are many common phrases that every language has a version of which can start you off. "Hello", "goodbye", "I'm sorry", and "thank you" are very common terms and usually easy to learn.

And when you’re starting out, it may make sense to think about what you want to say in your native language and then translate it into your target language.

But a lot of people fall into the trap of staying in that mindset too long. That’s a problem because speaking a language isn’t just about memorising words and phrases – it’s about forming sentences on your own and thinking in that language.

Another big mistake you can make with vocabulary is failing to choose the right words for you.

Vocabulary serves you best when it’s relevant to you and your life. After all, you’re much more likely to talk about your hobbies, family or home town than you are about the latest scientific discovery.

By focusing on words that are specific to you and learning the right word order, it allows you to quickly build a list of vocabulary that you can use in conversations right away. Not only that, but since the words you’ve learned are relevant to you, you will find them much easier to remember.

Believing that language immersion is about living abroad

You may have heard that the best way to learn a new language is immersion.

There is truth to that statement, but some people take it to mean, “If you can’t uproot your whole life and spend a year living in Madrid, you will never be good at Spanish.”

If moving to Madrid is an option for you, by all means, go for it! Plenty of countries let you take language courses there on a student visa. If you’re like most, though, it’s not.

I’m constantly amazed at how many people have never taken the plunge to get spoken practice online.

When I first wanted to learn and improve my English, all I had was text books and the radio playing English pop music... Since I was a student, I was able to move to London.

Nowadays, the Internet makes it really simple to immerse yourself in a new language, wherever you live. Now I study German using the Internet.

Immersion has less to do with your location than your environment and mindset.

Build a lifestyle where exposure to your target language is around every corner — through music, TV shows, movies, software and the people you see regularly.

For example, if you’re learning Spanish, watch a great Spanish movie like Pan's Labyrinth to help prepare yourself for chatting with native Spanish speakers.

Infuse your day with exposure to the language and your skills will develop at a much higher rate.

It’s so much easier than you might think.

There are three easy things you can do right away to create a language immersion environment.

  • First, set up a Skype conversation exchange or language lesson on italki. Don’t be intimidated to get started. Most people say their biggest regret is not starting sooner!

  • Second, load up foreign language files (music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc.) on your audio player so that you have natives speaking (or singing) to you wherever you go.

  • Third, change the language on all your digital interfaces (smartphone, Facebook, computer, web browser) to give yourself full virtual immersion.

Getting frustrated when listening to native speakers

Quite often, people will study a language and then try their skills on native speakers. This is a great approach.

Listening to native speakers and emulating them is also a great way to pick up good speech habits. This was one of my strategies when I first arrived in the UK.

However when you’re a beginner, your listening comprehension skills can’t keep up with how fast they typically talk. It can be easy to get frustrated and stop trying to converse with them.

This is especially true if you’re learning Spanish, as native Spanish speakers typically speak at lightning speeds.

Instead of becoming frustrated, realize that this challenge can be overcome by training your ears to associate the sounds of the language with the written form.

With a few weeks of consistent practice you can train yourself to listen as well as you can read. Once you reach that point, it just becomes a matter of improving your vocabulary and grammar.

You can always ask the person you’re talking to to slow down, but at the same time, work on your listening skills until you don’t have to anymore.

Listening to the news and podcasts is a great way to start since newscasters typically speak clearly and use plain language. Then you can move on to movies and TV series. Start with audio in your target language and subtitles in your native language, then move to both the audio and subtitles in your target language, and eventually forgo the subtitles altogether.

This is exactly what I work on with my clients.

Taking all my expertise I help clients overcome their perceived obstacles and help them become fluent in Spanish using our "3 Steps To Spanish Fluency" approach in our best spanish online courses.

As a result, they spend less time using practices that don’t serve them…

And more time getting excited about the next time they travel to Spain! 

So if you’d like to start acquiring Spanish the right way, look no further…

Book your free 15m chat with me here >>> to start acquiring Spanish within days!

best online spanish courses
Founder at Spanish Practice Club. 
Teacher, coach and author helping clients become fluent in Spanish and create the great opportunities life has to offer

Beatriz Valverde Garzón

Founder at Spanish Practice Club. Teacher, coach and author helping clients become fluent in Spanish and create the great opportunities life has to offer

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