Language learning is the easiest in childhood, when up to 1,000 new nerve connections are formed every second in the brain. However, as studies show, adults are not in a losing position. What’s more, language learning is an excellent form of brain training. Therefore, after finding the answer to the question “why can’t I learn a foreign language?” we’ll smoothly move on to solving the mystery of how to finally learn a language.
5 common mistakes in language learning
Let’s look at practices that often lead to a dead end in language learning. Why can’t you improve your foreign language level for years? You are highly likely to be making one or more of the common mistakes. It’s nothing to worry about. Identifying them is the first step to improving your current situation.
1. Lack of consistency
There are two types of memory: short-term and long-term. The first one is something of an operational memory – it is useful for performing current tasks. Learning a foreign language involves, above all, long-term memory. To memorize words or grammar rules, you need systematic repetition. Without that, your brain forgets most of the acquired information. The rate at which knowledge flows out of memory can differ. According to Dr. Piotr Woźniak’s research on the forgetting curve, it depends on the complexity of the new information and how fresh the data is in our memory. In the struggle to be permanently remembered, the most important thing is regular repetition. The SuperMemo algorithm can be a great help, as it sets the repetition frequency and adapts it to individual predispositions.
2. Shame as a barrier to language learning
Have you been learning a language for several years, but when you have to say a few words in it, you start to panic? First, remember that this feeling of shame does not mean that you lack skills. Many people have similar feelings. So, you’re not alone. However, you can’t learn a language without using it every day. In the further part of the article, we’ll show you how to try to deal with stress that stops us from talking.
3. Sticking to ineffective methods
Are you wondering why you can’t learn a foreign language despite trying out different courses? Maybe you still haven’t found the perfect method for yourself? Many products available on the market are based on similar solutions that concentrate on accumulating knowledge, but not necessarily using it in practice. Albert Einstein said it’s crazy to do the same thing and expect different results. This lesson also applies to language learning. If, despite a real and honest approach to your chosen form of learning, you do not see results after a few months, consider changing the method.
4. Setting unrealistic goals
The brain can more easily absorb knowledge in batches. One of the twenty rules of formulating knowledge, described by the creator of the SuperMemo method, says it is important not only to divide information into smaller parts, but also to make it as simple as possible. Often, wanting to achieve quick results, we set ourselves a pace that does not allow us to consolidate the basics. If you don’t master the foundations, you’ll encounter problems in language learning later. To communicate at a basic level, you only need about 1,000 words, so you don’t have to memorize the entire dictionary by heart. Don’t rush, as everything takes time.
5. Too much emphasis on grammar
The basics of a language’s grammar can be simple. However, the more you get into it, the more complicated it becomes. So, for example, learning compound verbs, or phrasal verbs, can discourage many poor souls. Unfortunately, this is usually due to the approach of studying only grammar textbooks. This is not the way.
How to avoid mistakes in language learning
Now that we’ve pointed out a few common mistakes, it’s time for tips on how to avoid them and finally learn a foreign language to a satisfactory level.
1. How to be more consistent
When you learn new material, it will fade away with time. That’s why it is important to develop the habit of doing repetitions. The more often you repeat, the more lasting the newly acquired knowledge will be.
The well-known comedian Jerry Seinfeld found a method to help himself with regular repetitions. You can use the same. Get a red felt-tip pen and a large wall calendar. Every day you repeat the planned batch of words, draw a large red cross on the calendar.
However, if you want to move with the times, you can use the application based on the SuperMemo method. It will help you schedule the repetitions and organize your knowledge, even if you devote only a few minutes or more a day to learning.
2. How to overcome the language barrier
Overcoming the stress of speaking a foreign language is possible. One of the simplest techniques is to work with breathing. When you feel anxiety and fear, try to stop for a moment, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Take a few deep breaths. Listen to your body. Locate the tension in it and while exhaling, imagine getting rid of this unpleasant feeling.
Shame is also often associated with poor pronunciation. The functionality of the SuperMemo application includes a speech recognition and speech synthesis functionality which will help you practice the correct pronunciation of words and speak more freely .
Remember that even the biggest polyglots make mistakes. It’s important to learn from them. If your fear of speaking is very high, make sure that you have good practicing conditions. Friendly surroundings, people who will not laugh at your language mistakes – all this will definitely help break the barrier.
3. How to choose an effective method
In the ‘90s, a New Zealand school inspector, Neil Fleming, divided students into four types of learning styles (VARK):
Today we know that, although many people do prefer a particular learning style, our brains work similarly. When expanding our knowledge, we usually use different methods by turns. So, from among the numerous courses, methods and applications for language learning, focus on comprehensive ones.
When choosing the right method, take into account the currently available knowledge. The latest information suggests that our minds are more able to absorb information when it is divided into parts. Putting these parts in the right context is also a great help. As the creator of the SuperMemo method notes, for language learning it is also worth using images and graphic representations of words that we want to remember. The visual cortex has evolved over the years of evolution into a tool that can efficiently process huge amounts of information. Therefore, juxtaposing a word with its visual representation speeds up memorising significantly.
Bearing that in mind, it’s easier to understand the popularity of the Olive Green interactive course. It is based on a film story in which the user can participate by making decisions which have an impact on the eponymous heroine’s fate.
4. How to learn grammar
Language is a communication tool and correct grammar, although important, is not always key when it comes to transmitting information or getting an answer. That is why, at the beginning, it is first of all important to focus on using the language and then worrying about correct constructions later. What’s the easiest way to learn grammar? Well, reading interesting texts can be helpful. At some stage of learning, however, it is necessary to learn the principles and consolidate them through exercises.
Learning a foreign language – combine practical things with pleasure
Learning for the pure purpose of learning is not satisfying. This also means that we can’t see if we’re getting any closer to our goal. Learning a language cannot be separated from life, so set a goal that will give you pleasure. Do you have a favorite foreign writer? Have you always wanted to read “El amor en los tiempos del cólera” (“Love in the Time of Cholera”) or any other book in the original version? Perfect! Setting realistic and specific goals will definitely help you to acquire higher language competence. And if you don’t feel confident enough yet to reach for your favorite books in the original, try to find easier versions of them published specifically for language learners. Here is an example.
Having access to numerous streaming platforms, such as Netflix or HBO GO, it is also much easier to learn a language using interesting source material. If you’re watching your favorite series, select the original version with subtitles. Watching native language films and series with original subtitles is especially recommended if you have mastered the language at the basic or intermediate level.
1. What are the benefits of watching movies with subtitles?
- Watching movies with subtitles allows you to listen to the pronunciation, while learning the spelling.
- This way of learning by watching with subtitles activates the areas of the brain responsible for speech recognition and reading – double stimulation facilitates memorising.
- New words are much easier to catch from subtitles than when hearing them.
After watching a movie with subtitles, it’s worth trying to watch it again, this time without the subtitles, which requires much more concentration. However, it is easier this way to connect words with non-verbal messages, like the gestures or facial expressions of actors.
How to finally learn English a foreign language
Language learning is like riding a bike. Theory alone is never enough. Therefore, if you think you can’t learn a language, then the problem is probably that you just don’t use it often enough. You’re gaining knowledge and improving your skills, but you can’t measure your progress. So, if you’ve completed the basics, it’s time to test yourself.
To take the next step in language learning, you don’t have to move to the country of your interest. Of course, conversations with natives will be very useful, but you can start with smaller steps:
- Take notes and organize them. You can use traditional flashcards or create your own course in SuperMemo with any vocabulary you choose. An algorithm will help you learn the words and adapt the repetition calendar to your individual learning progress.
- Start keeping a diary in English. This way, you will not only use the language, but also work on your consistency.
- Take challenges! The website you visit has two language versions? Choose the foreign one. Are you trying to decipher the user manual for a new game? Don’t take the easy option, use the Spanish, Italian or any other version of the language that you are learning.
- Does a person you know speak a language you want to learn? Even if you have not mastered the language, try to speak in it at least once a week.