Mistakes to avoid when learning a foreign language

While everyone has different techniques for learning a language, there are undoubtedly some mistakes that a lot of people make when undergoing the process. I’ve definitely had my own personal experiences with this, so I’m going to make a list of some mistakes that you should avoid when learning a foreign language!

1. Blind translation to target language

The first sentence I ever wrote in French was “moi volonté toujours amour tu”. (Cue French people laughing)

The sentence I was trying to make was “I will always love you”. What I basically ended up saying was “me will always love you”. It doesn’t sound so bad that way, but consider that I used nouns instead of verbs: “volonté” (a will, a willingness to do something), and “amour” (THE love, not TO love).

The actual, correct translation is “je t’aimerai toujours.” Pretty different huh? But at that time I wasn’t even studying French. I was just a silly 12 year old who wanted to put a French line in a fanfiction she was writing. So I literally found some sub-par translator online, looked up each word individually, and picked the first result. You can see how good it was.

This is basically just word-for-word translation by switching the words in the original language one by one to the target language. It is a huge pitfall when trying to learn your language and I have since discovered some good ways to avoid it:

First of all, find a good dictionary. I personally adore Wordreference.com. The best kinds of language dictionaries are the ones that give context and examples so you know which words to use. Wordreference does this, as well as provide what part of speech a word is and example sentences. There are also forums where you can ask specific questions. It’s really a terrific tool!

Google the word you’re translating and there will be multiple results where you can see definitions and translations, or real life example sentences. If you aren’t sure if you’ve picked the right word, just do some poking around! That way you don’t end up like me, who proudly declared that “Estoy un ventilador” when trying to tell someone I was a fan of their work. (Hint: ventilador is a literal fan that blows air on you. I don’t think I’m one of those).

2. Wasting your time with impossible learning methods

When I was younger, I somehow convinced myself that repeatedly watching episodes of Inuyasha in Japanese without subtitles would result in me magically picking up Japanese.

Spoiler alert: it did not. However after watching 64 episodes of Full metal Alchemist in a row (with English subs), I did pick up on a few things. But please don’t waste 30 hours of your life like that. Just don’t.

3. Assuming you are perfect after a small success

This isn’t meant to be harsh at all. You’re supposed to feel great when you learn a new language, and each new step that you climb is great progress and you should be proud!

However, too much confidence can be a bad thing in multiple situations. I say this as the type of arrogant know-it-all buttmunch that thought I was suddenly fluent in Spanish after translating an entire story using babelfish. (I was 12, come on).

If you think you’re already good enough at a language, then you won’t try as hard and your ability in that language will stagnate. If you say “Well I’m fluent enough” then that kills any motivation for you to keep improving. Even in our native language we come across new words every day that we learn.

I admit I have this problem with my French. Now that I can read, write, speak, and listen to the language with considerable ease, I find myself making less efforts to really become great at it. Yeah I can read an entire book in French, but if I’m not looking up words I don’t know, or writing my OWN stuff in French, I’m really doing myself a disservice.

Also, if you think you’re super great at a language, nothing will crush your spirit like a native speaker brutally correcting you. Git gud!

4. Being afraid of making mistakes

If you are so afraid of making errors or getting corrected, then you will never progress, in anything. Even if you know that sentence you’re writing sucks cheese, you should still make your best effort and write it. And when someone corrects you, don’t feel like you failed. Use it as a constructive tool that will help you next time! If someone tells you “hey, you should say it this way instead”, then you will learn how to properly say the sentence that may otherwise have gone unquestioned. Most native speakers are patient and will be nice when giving advice.

I truly believe that my first French penpals were absolute angels for putting up with my atrocious abilities. But they’re the ones who helped me improve in the first place!

In short, if you never practise or display your skills because you’re afraid of making a mistake or looking silly, then you’re not going to go anywhere with what you’re learning. Be brave and keep on trying!

I mean look at those firsthand examples I gave a few paragraphs up. I’ve certainly made my own language booboos plenty of times.

5. Never using the language again ever

Use your language! (Says the girl who hasn’t spoken German in like a year).

But no seriously, even if it’s just reading a couple articles a day in your target language to get your brain going, make sure you are still incorporating your languages when you can. I understand it gets hard, especially when learning several languages or not really having a use for the language you learnt in the first place.

I personally just like using the language with my friends I made online. Talk to them every day or every other day, whatever you like. Just find a way to use your language somehow.

It’s always a shame to let a language fade in my opinion. Keep those language juices flowing!!

There are clearly many other mistakes that I could add, but honestly I think these are some of the biggest and most essential. I’ve definitely made them myself, and some of them I’m still trying to kick to the curb.

Like I said, it’s okay to make mistakes, but I hope this list helped you out a little bit to avoid wasting your time or hurting your language learning process.

Feel free to share your own mistakes in the comments!


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