Language Learning Basics, Tips

The Most Common Mistake People Make When Learning A Language

Many people start learning a language, however many people quickly lose their motivation after their enthusiastic start and

I myself have done this many times already. While I am fluent in 5 languages and are not new to the rodeo of language learning I still find myself making the same mistake when trying to learn a new one.

Learning a new language can feel like trying to climb a mountain, and it can be incredibly frustrating when you don’t know when the climb is going to end.

But how are you going to know you have reached the top when you haven’t actually defined your goal?

Most people start aimlessly repeating words on Duolingo and stop when they feel they are not making any progress anymore.

In order to achieve something you must first define what you want to achieve. Wanting to ‘learn’ a new language is an incredibly vague definition which means it’s hard to actually measure progress.

 

Define your goal

So, in order to start learning a language and actually continue you need to set a clear goal for yourself. 

Ask yourself why you are learning this language and what you would like to be able to do.

What is your ultimate goal in this language? Do you want to be able to actually speak this language or is reading/writing the goal?

Why it works

Researchers have found that people are able to withstand much higher degrees of pain when they know how long and how much they will have to endure.

The uncertainty of not knowing when your ‘suffering’ is going to end makes the experience much worse, and will make it more likely for you to quit.

Setting a long term goal will remind you of what the finish line is, while keeping short term goals makes it easier to know what to do from day to day, and will allow you to measure your progress and actually compare it to an end goal.

Knowing how many miles you have walked doesn’t tell you much unless you know how far the finish line is.

Determining your goal will suddenly put your efforts on a scale and will make it easier for you to make it to the finish line.

Examples

Having clear goals is one of the reasons why living abroad is often such an effective way to learn a new language.

People often think it is the exposure to the new language, but the truth is that you can live years in a foreign country without speaking the language.

Exposure alone won’t get you there.

However, living abroad suddenly gives people a more specific goal in their language learning: to be conversationally fluent.

That in combination with the exposure and the practice is what usually turns time abroad into a successful language learning experience.

 

Having a goal is one of the things that makes Duolingo so appealing as a language learning tool. It encourages you to spend at least 5 minutes every day trying to learn a new language.

However, Duolingo lacks an overall goal for language learning which is another reason why many people give up. The words they teach you seem impractical and while you might learn something new everyday it doesn’t feel like you are actually working towards a goal.

Besides that apart from the occasional written exercise it mostly focuses on the passive side of language learning, and fails to

So when you are learning a new language, try to set goals for yourself. Ask yourself why you are learning this language, and what you w

 

Long term goals

  • Three months from now I want to be able to read a book in French
  • One year from now I want to be able to have a 5 minute conversation with a native Mandarin speaker
  • Six months from now I want to be able to watch an English movie without subtitles
  • One year from now I want to be able to read a mystery thriller in Swedish
  • Six months from now I want to be able to have a chat with my in-laws in Portuguese
  • Four months from now I want to be able to ask for directions in Arabic when I am on vacation in Egypt
  • Two years from now I want to be mistaken for a native speaker of Swahili

 

One fun thing to do is to search a random text/video or to  purchase a book/movie in your target language and keep it somewhere for the amount of time you are giving yourself to learn this language.

Take a quick glance at it when you are starting out (potentially even write down how much of it you could understand so far) and put it away until you feel like you are ready.

 

When you have set a long term goal for yourself, try to break it up into smaller pieces with short time goals. This will make it easier to know what you have to do from day to day in order to achieve your long-term goals.

Short term goals are also a great way to be able to track your progress.

Here are some examples of short term goals you can set for yourself.

Short term goals

Time-based goals vs. Result-based goals

Setting time based goals such as on Duolingo can also be a great way to make sure you spend time on it every day. However your language learning efforts can not be measured in the amount of hours you put into it.

If you are learning in an ineffective way or keep repeating the same things you can work as long as you want but you won’t make much progress. Setting goals that are not time-based but result-based will force you to find out the most effective way of language learning

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2 Comments

  • Reply Fabio August 28, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    Amazing advice!
    In my case, my long-term goal is to be able to watch movies in English (My target language) and I have broken it up into short-term goals such as reading and listening to an audio-book, watching short videos with subtitles and texting with English native speakers on Internet.
    I think the most important thing that can help you out to learn a language is to find it useful in your life: either professional or personal life.
    Thanks for sharing this article

    • Reply AmarensElise August 29, 2017 at 9:06 pm

      Very true! I think finding a useful goal makes it easier to stick to it, but even if you are learning a language just for fun setting goals can help a lot.

      Good luck with your English, I am sure you will be successful!

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