Common mistakes adult language learners make
by Maria Inês Teixeira
November 23, 2020
a woman thinking about the language learning mistakes she's made

Whether you’ve decided to sign up for a course or learn a language from home, there’s no denying that language learning, and joining the experienced adult language learners out there, comes with its challenges. And let’s face it: adults have lots of problems, insecurities, busy schedules, family members and professional issues to worry about that sometimes get in the way! So what are some mistakes we might be making that we can try to address right now? 

Let’s dive in and discover. 

Are you making these mistakes as an adult language learner?

1. Do you compare yourself to children (or anyone else)?

We have written all about why children and adults should not be compared when it comes to language learning, but here’s the core message: if you ever want to feel happy about your progress, the comparison game is not helping. Obsessing over how others are progressing faster, seem more talented than you or speak with a better accent is holding you back from focusing on what matters: your own unique, valuable language story! The one where you take the wheel. Language learning is all about focusing on the road, not the cars that pass you by. 

2. Do you see discomfort as an enemy of learning?

This might sound a little cheesy, but vulnerability is a crucial part of language learning, as are awkward silences, hesitations, forgotten words and occasional regressions. Feeling uncomfortable sometimes is key to thinking about your own progress and what you still want to improve. By being a little nervous or awkward once in a while, you’ll grow stronger, more confident, more fluent and willing to get yourself out there! That’s why discomfort is actually an ally in language learning, not an enemy. 

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3. Do you struggle to be consistent?

You know how people say that showing up is half the battle? They’re so right! The same applies to language learning: it’s all about those good habits. Now, we know what you’re thinking: “That’s all good, but my schedule is full!”. We get it, we’re only human and there is only so much you can get done in 24 hours. However, even just 15 minutes can go a long way. Reading a short story, writing ten sentences in your target language before sleep or listening to a short podcast episode while cooking or cleaning are always better than doing nothing. Make it a goal to show up every day.

4. Do you forget to diversify your materials?

Language learners always seem to be searching for the next perfect tool. What is that one app that can save me? What is that one book that can teach me everything? That’s understandable, especially considering you might get overwhelmed by too many resources (more on that below). But let’s think about it this way: when you go out into the real world to speak your new language, will you be surrounded by only one person? One book? One app? Not really! You’ll have to deal with a variety of people with different accents, read news using different platforms and formats, and so on. For that reason, it’s a great idea to mix it up a little and create diversity in the materials you surround yourself with. On that note…

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5. Do you forget to create your own materials?

Have you ever asked yourself why you can perfectly read a text, but struggle to write a simple composition? Or why you understand everything you hear, but can’t put three sentences together to save your life? Production is just as important as reception when it comes to learning a language. Yes, it’s fun to read new materials and explore new platforms, but make sure you’re writing your own texts, creating your own customised flashcards and practising speaking! If this sounds way too overwhelming, start by writing ten short sentences a day immediately after waking up or before going to sleep. It’s a great starting point!

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6. Do you forget the pleasure of play?

When asked what they would like to improve about themselves, language learners typically reach for “more disciplined”, “more hardworking”, “more consistent”, “more self-confident”. These are all fantastic, but make sure you don’t forget that language learning is about play, too! There is so much to love and enjoy when learning a new language: making new friends, playing new games, discovering literature, exploring food, and more. The moment learning languages becomes a bunch of schedules with strict rules that bring you no fun, take some time to consider how you can spice it up!

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7. Do you overwhelm yourself with resources? 

A common mistake language learners make is overwhelming ourselves with apps, manuals, platforms, language exchange accounts and more. If you find yourself wandering, moving from website to website, installing yet another app, buying several books you don’t use or signing up for courses you don’t finish, it’s time to rethink your approach! Start by creating a list of solid resources you’d like to use for very specific purposes: one app for reading, one platform for practicing speaking, one platform for listening, etc. You might also want to define how much time you want to dedicate to each, but that’s optional! 

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8. Do you underestimate the importance of people?

Sometimes, us language learners get comfy using our favorite apps, streaming platforms, manuals, flashcards and verb lists, and forget all about why we’re learning a new language in the first place: speaking. Don’t underestimate the importance of teachers, tutors, language partners and new friends when it comes to improving your language skills! They’ll give you motivating feedback, sometimes uncomfortable truths and several opportunities to be spontaneous. That’s where real connection begins!

Have you been making any of these mistakes? Which ones? How do you think you can improve? If you’re ready to keep going, check out these 10 original tips for learning a new language as an adult and tell us your own!

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