The top 5 mistakes language learners make

If you feel like you’re putting in the effort but not getting the results, like your fluency is progressing too slowly, standing still, or worse—going backwards, like you have the answers for your app, book, or class but they’re not translating into real life fluency, we have some news. 

You’re right. You’re likely wasting time, money, and effort on a language learning routine that isn’t working for ya. 

Oosh—harsh, we know. But don’t worry, it’s only the routine! And once you know what’s wrong, you can turn it all around. Start by checking whether you’re one of the millions of learners making these 5 common mistakes:

  1. Getting waylaid ‘learning’ when what you really want is to ‘acquire’. They’re different things! Acquisition is the subconscious process of ‘picking up’ a language through gradual communication (and loads of reading & listening). You’ve already done it as a bub, remember? Learning, on the other hand, is the very conscious process of getting to know all about the rules of a language. They’re very different goals requiring very different approaches. It’s up to you to find a balance that suits.

  2. Studying loads of grammar. Studying grammar definitely belongs in the ‘great for learning, useless for acquisition’ camp. In the same way you could speak your first language fairly fluently before you found out what an em dash was, you can acquire a second language with literally no time devoted to grammar. And if you are interested in the nitty gritty of the plu-perfect tense? Go for your life! But know (apart from keeping you interested and motivated) it’s not really influencing your ability to order a round of sangrias or reel off your pepeha.

  3. Putting pressure on ourselves to speak too early. The ability to speak in our target language is an ‘output’ of fluency. It can’t be taught, it just naturally develops as our comprehension and confidence increases. Breathe easy, just because you’re struggling to speak doesn’t mean you’re not making progress. Especially in the beginning stages, listening is much more useful. You’ll speak when you feel like it and forcing it any earlier often just creates anxiety which will hold you back. 

  4. Putting too much pressure on ourselves full stop. Pressure (often induced by formal tests, pushing ourselves to speak early, or berating ourselves for not getting the grammar) creates anxiety and lowers our motivation and self-esteem. I’m not suggesting taking the pressure off just for warm fuzzies. I’m suggesting it because pressure can literally create a mental block stunting your progress.

  5. Believing flashcards, memorisation, rote-learning, and apps like Duolingo will get us fluent. Memorising random words and sentences in any way, whether it’s through flash cards, apps, or writing them in your window condensation, does verrrrry little for fluency. Sure you might remember the word for ‘apple’ for a couple of weeks but after that? Most probably goneskies. The most efficient way to pick language up and remember it long-term is from context where words means something. That’s where it turns from five letters into a concept you can actually lock in. Plus, you immediately get much more information about how it’s used, like the other words it frequently comes with.

Well, that’s a lot of ‘don’ts’. So what CAN we do to make fluency gains that last? According to world renowned linguist and educational researcher, Professor Steven Krashen, it’s all about getting as much ‘comprehensible input’ into your learning routine as possible. And the best way? I kid you not...

Studies show that reading and listening for pleasure in your target language is the most powerful tool to develop fluency in language education.* 

Well there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. If you want to bump up the efficiency of your routine, swap your next grammar session for Lingogo! If you’re learning Spanish we have a handy one week free trial with any subscription and if you’re learning Māori it’s freeeeee.

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*This information was sourced from To find out more about the theory behind this blog post google ‘Comprehensible Input Theory’ or ‘Theory of Second Language Acquisition’ by Professor Steven Krashen. There’s over 40 years of research and it’s ruddy interesting.

Lizzie DunnComment