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Seven Common Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes When Learning a New Language

A man thinking while learning a language

With a plethora of program options out there telling us how easy it can be to learn a language, it’s no surprise that many people end up feeling frustrated when they don't reach a certain level of fluency as quickly as anticipated. 

But take a minute to think about other accomplishments you’ve made. That class-three hike you completed, the home bar you renovated (mostly) by yourself, that first or second college degree — we’re willing to bet that no matter what it was, your proudest accomplishments weren’t easy, but they were worth it. The hard work was rewarding — life-changing, even.

Multilingualism is no different. It opens new avenues for business and adventure, access to a variety of cultures, cuisines, and traditions, and connections with different people you’d otherwise never meet. With gains like that, it’s no surprise that sometimes, language learning isn’t easy. 

But that’s okay — knowing what’s coming is the first step to meeting challenges head-on. 

So, for all you language hopefuls who are just starting out, or seasoned veterans looking to kick habits that aren’t helping, here are seven common mistakes most language learners make, and some expert insight on how to avoid them — or learn from them. 

1. Mistake: Forgetting to actually speak aloud
A better move: Start talking

To yourself, to your mom, to your dog, to anyone. Learning a language introduces you to an entire set of new sounds, and your tongue must learn how to help your mouth produce them. Like training a muscle, this takes practice, and the only way to do it is to just do it. 

If you’ve got a little bit of stage fright when it comes to speaking a second language, you might find yourself focusing on reading, writing, and listening (which are all very important — listening can actually help your pronunciation), while neglecting to actually start speaking. With Mango’s self-directed learning system, you’re encouraged to start speaking right away, but at your own pace and in the environment of your choice. So, go ahead, try that German ich or Korean 으, your dog won’t tell anybody if it sounds a little off the first few times.

2. Mistake: Ignoring your progress in favor of unrealistic expectations
A better move: Set realistic goals, and don’t forget to test your progress

What is a realistic goal? That depends on you: Your study habits, your free time, your motivations. Generally, learning a language to an intermediate-high level can take anywhere from 600–2,200 hours, depending on your native and target language. 

Seem like a lot? Break that down into realistic, doable increments (see our advice on goal-setting here), and don’t get frustrated if it’s not exactly like a duck taking to water. Check off your goals along the way for a sense of accomplishment and to see how far you’ve come, and you’ll begin to experience the big picture benefits of language learning pretty quickly. 

3. Mistake: Focusing on the wrong vocab
A better move: Build a base of practical words and sentence vocabulary

This might seem like a no-brainer, but the best vocabulary words to learn are the ones that you’re actually going to use. However, a fresh set of words alone is not enough. 

Each language has common phrases and simple sentences that beginners can memorize similarly to how you memorize vocabulary words, and doing so will get you more conversational at a quicker pace. 

4. Mistake: Learning grammar like it’s math
A better move: Learn a language as a skill, not just a set of rules and formulas

New skills require action and practice. They require you to form new habits, make mistakes, and get out of your comfort zone, and language learning is no different. Learn the rules, but don’t let a preoccupation with grammar stop you from increasing your fluency.

Our advice to our learners is to approach language learning as you would any other skill, like playing the guitar, for example. Sure, you could spend hours and hours pouring over music theory without ever picking up your instrument, but without hands-on practice, training your fingers to move in new ways, honing your ear to the notes, how far would you really get? Would you ever get a chance to play your favorite song?

5. Mistake: Fearing mistakes
A better move: Embrace your mistakes by learning from them

While it may sound cliché, making mistakes when learning a new language is not only unavoidable, it’s actually a good sign. Mango courses are even built to encourage certain mistakes that highlight inconsistencies in grammar, making these rule-exceptions stick in your brain that much more. 

When you find yourself getting it ‘wrong,’ try writing down your mistakes on paper in one column and in the next, write down the correct answers or what you should have said. This way, every mistake is a chance to learn, and you have a reference for the areas you need to review. Don’t have a pen and paper on hand? No worries. Mango’s personalized Review System is designed to keep track of what you know best and which areas you need to work on. We’ll keep those hard-to-remember vocabulary words and grammar pain-points ready for you to jump in and review until you’ve mastered them.

6. Mistake: Relying solely on 1:1 translations
A better move: Start to think in your target language

To be blunt, tools like Google Translate should be used very sparingly, if at all. You will not always find direct translations between your native language and the language you are learning. While your Mango course includes both literal and understood meanings to help you understand why certain words are used, the end goal is to start thinking in your target language, instead of translating in your head before speaking. 

7. Mistake: Losing sight of your motivation
A better move: Revisit why you started learning a language in the first place

Was it your love of French cinema in college? A wish to reconnect with your heritage through your oma’s or abuela’s native language? An insatiable wanderlust that seems to increase day by day? Whatever the seed was that sparked your interest in language learning, it’s important to remember. Motivation is what will keep pushing you forward through the frustrating moments on your language-learning journey.

These reasons may indeed fluctuate with time, so we recommend going back to the root of it all. Revisit your initial motivations and remind yourself why you are learning a language in the first place. If anything has changed, try adding new reasons, or rekindling old ones.

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Transformative achievements take time and attention, making the satisfaction you feel during and afterwards that much sweeter. With these seven tips in your back pocket, you’re ready to tackle your next language lesson head on.

Start the Conversation

What type of bumps in the road have you met on your language-learning journey? Share your struggles below and we’ll tackle these subjects in a future post.

Megan Polom
Written by Megan Polom

Fresh off an adventure of a lifetime teaching English in Busan, South Korea, Megan is our Junior Copywriter. A coffee and podcast addict, you can find her at the nearest cafe with a book in hand, or earbuds in and out for a hike. She is currently learning Korean and Spanish, and hopes to tackle French next.

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