Are you doing these things that could derail your language learning progress?

You might have great intentions about improving your English, but I’ve noticed people doing some things that actually make it harder for them to learn.

I’ve even done a couple of them myself. Here are some examples. (If you prefer listening to reading, I also talked about this in episode 129 of my podcast.

1. Taking on too much

If I want to find a podcast on a certain subject, I’m likely to subscribe to 10, with the idea that I’ll try them all out, decide which ones I like, and then get rid of the rest. The problem is that sometimes I don’t get round to the “get rid of the rest” part, which means I end up with a really busy feed and no time to listen to everything.

The same goes for Facebook groups – I join a bunch of them to find out which ones are good, and then I don’t always take part in them as much as I want to, so it feels as though I am not getting anywhere and they are not helping me to learn.

I’ve been having a clear-out of my inbox recently. I’m the kind of person who likes to gather a lot of information, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing in itself. However, if something isn’t adding value, or it’s not the right thing for you, then why not get rid of it and focus on the things that are more useful?

2. Choosing material that is inappropriate for what you want to learn

If you want to learn business English, a love story isn’t going to give you what you need. If you want to be able to chat to your English-speaking friends over dinner, the latest financial information might be interesting to you, but it won’t help you to understand your friends’ jokes.

Before you think about which materials you are going to use, think about what kind of learning material will be best suited to helping you reach your goal.

That doesn’t mean you can’t reward yourself with something you enjoy later – just be clear about what you want to achieve and who or what can help you to do it.

3. Wasting your time

Nobody likes to waste their time, and the sad thing is, you can be really busy and still not achieve anything.

I’m not talking about when you get distracted on Facebook instead of doing your homework. I’m not talking about staring into space instead of writing your presentation in another language.

I’m talking about the exercises that people do online, even though they’ve been told that that particular site isn’t very good and there are mistakes in the exercises. I’m talking about the lists of words that people learn, even though they will never need them. I’m talking about the books that people plough through or the tv series that they watch, even though they don’t enjoy them.

For that matter, people can waste money too by buying a load of resources that they will never use or need. I understand you want to try things out, but maybe try one thing first before buying a load of similar books or materials. Then you haven’t wasted as much money if that particular method doesn’t work for you.

Time is precious. If you have to study a certain book for school, then there’s not much you can do about it. But in terms of what you do in your spare time to work on your language learning, why not be selective and use those things that really work for you. Everyone is different, and what works for someone else might not work for you. That’s ok.

I went through a phase when I was 11 or 12 of looking up obscure words that nobody had ever heard of. I thought it was fun. The people around me didn’t! Being curious about language is great, but not all words are equally useful – unless of course you’re playing Scrabble!

If you fail to communicate because most people don’t understand an outdated word that you found in a dictionary, you have a problem! I know someone who tried to learn a page of the dictionary each day, but I’d suggest this isn’t a good strategy, because some of those words were so specific and outdated, that it would be difficult to bring them into conversation or writing!

4. Unreasonable expectations

Part of the problem here is that language providers promote unreasonable expectations too. Sound like a native in 2 weeks and do just 5 minutes of practice a day! It doesn’t work like that! You need to put the work in regularly.

If you want to have high expectations, that’s great, but keep it real, or else you’ll get overwhelmed and feel like giving up when you can’t succeed.

If you’re a beginner, you won’t be able to have in-depth political conversations after you’ve just learned the past tense.

If you write a text in your target language, don’t be surprised that you didn’t catch every single little mistake. Nobody is perfect, especially when they’re writing in a new language.

Strive for excellence, sure. But don’t beat yourself up over 96%! Yes, I used to be that child. As an adult, I’m less of a perfectionist, but I’m getting there. I still get annoyed with myself when I make avoidable mistakes in German, but I don’t let it hold me back any more. That took time though.

5. Comparing yourself to others

We had a boy in our maths class at school who loved maths. I knew I would never be as good as him. For me, maths homework was a chore to get done, but I wasn’t passionate about it and I knew I would never be as good as him. That was ok. I didn’t want to be! My love was for languages, and in those classes I was the one who was passionate about the subject.

You might be learning English because you love it. Alternatively, you might be learning English because you need it. Don’t be surprised if someone who spends every waking hour learning English makes faster progress than you. Your progress is your own journey. You can be inspired or motivated by others, but it’s not helpful to keep measuring yourself against their achievements.

If you want to work with other people, try and find someone whose language level and motivation are similar to yours. This is especially true for language exchanges. Trying to study with someone who can answer a question in 10 sentences while you’re still thinking about your first one can be quite demotivating. If you find someone on the same level or just slightly ahead of you, it’s more of a team effort.

Can you think of any other things that can derail language learning progress? Let me know in the comments!

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Kirsty working with students

Author: Kirsty Wolf

I am an English teacher and a language enthusiast who also speaks German and Romanian. I help motivated professionals to improve their English so that they can communicate confidently and authentically.

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