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October 2018

Worst Language Study Mistakes You Might Be Making

Avoid these bad habits to improve your studies

Often we focus on the top tips for learning new languages, advice given to those who hope to improve learning speed and increase efficiencies. But sometimes discovering the right way to study means we need to take a look at what we shouldn’t do. The bad habits that follow are common, and, at some point or another, we find ourselves falling into these traps, even if we know them to be folly. Of course, there are always a small population of people who thrive using methodologies that would normally hold others back. In the end, you should choose the best way to study that’s right for you. Most students, however, will want to avoid the following study mistakes.

Relying solely on rote memorisation

Straight memorisation of material can work for many people, especially when using flashcards and techniques like spaced repetition (where lesser known material is more frequently shown). Relying solely on rote memorisation, however, is not usually a good strategy. It’s simply too boring to be sustained over long periods of time. Most students thrive when the study method is interesting and fun; focusing too much on memorisation can ultimately make learning dull.

A better alternative is to find different methods to study. For example, if you traditionally use flashcards to memorise new vocabulary, opt instead to read more. You’ll not only pick up new vocabulary, but you’ll also learn more about context and how the new words fit within the language itself. In other words, it’s better to study the words in use rather than individually.

Sticking too closely to the textbook

For newer students, the textbook can often be like a safety blanket, a safe place to which many refer back. While useful sources of information, textbooks are unfortunately limited in scope. At some point, students will need to leave the textbook behind and dive deeper into the language by examining real-world text, watching films, travelling, and speaking with native speakers. It’s very easy for beginner and intermediate students to review a textbook several times over before putting the language to actual practice.

Once you feel comfortable with the textbook material (when you reach the point that the material is no longer a real challenge for you), leave the textbook behind and seek more advanced sources of learning. Some options include reading the newspaper, chatting with native speakers, and visiting the country of your target language.

Being too shy

Perfection is an unrealistic goal. Even fluent speakers who live in the country of their target language will often come across words they don’t know. Mastery of a language is a gradient and not a goal; there is always something more to learn. It would therefore be a bad idea to hold yourself back from using your target language until you reach some arbitrary mastery level.

The best way to learn is to make plenty of mistakes. Use the language you’re studying as soon as possible. Even if you’re barely able to hold a conversation, start speaking at the level you’re comfortable with. As time goes on, you’ll find that it gets easier and easier.

Studying infrequently

While studying infrequently is still better than not studying at all, it’s far worse than studying every day, even if you study for the same amount of time over a given period. For example, it’s better to study for 15 minutes a day rather than 105 minutes a week. This is because learning a language is a lot like working out. Constant exposure and exercise is required to develop fluency.

Find a way to fit quick study sessions into your daily habit. Study while you drink your morning coffee, listen to podcasts while commuting to work, or read a foreign language novel before you go to bed.

Believing you’re too old to learn a new language

We’ve likely all heard that children learn new languages much easier than adults. Unless you own a time machine, this belief is besides the point. We live in the time that we have, and so we must work with that. You are never too old to learn anything, and some experts believe that adults are more capable of learning a new language more deeply than children. This is because we draw comparisons to our native languages and have a better mastery of grammar. It could be that the same mind constructs that seemingly hold us back help us to learn new languages better.

What are your “favorite” language study bad habits? How do you avoid them? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language learning!