Learning Languages

7 Common Mistakes Language Learners Make + Some General Tips

The closer the target language is to your native language, the easier it will be to learn. Don't get discouraged. It takes years to get really good at a language. You're not bad at languages. You just need to step out of your comfort zone and go all in :) Now, with that said, here are some common mistakes:

Dear readers,

Thanks for visiting my blog today! How goes it? 😉

This is the third post on Austauscherfahrungen about learning foreign languages. Do check out the first two: Quick Tips for Achieving Fluency* in a Foreign Language & Methods and Materials for Learning a Foreign Language. I also have a bilingual story about how I learned to speak German. It is full of tips and gives you an overview of my learning process from zero to advanced: How I learned German (A Bilingual Text).

My first two posts gave suggestions for learners who have been studying but still can’t speak the language as well as different methods to try out according to your level. This post will cover 7 common mistakes to avoid & some additional tips to make you a better language-learner. Before we get started, I want to say one thing: you learn a language by doing. It requires motivation, some sort of system, and regular exposure/practice. The closer the target language is to your native language, the easier it will be to learn. Don’t get discouraged. It takes years to get really good at a language. You’re not bad at languages. You just need to step out of your comfort zone and go all in 🙂 Now, with that said, here are some common mistakes:

~studying German May 2016~


Common Mistakes

  1. Not thinking about pronunciation in the beginning: Unfortunately, in most language courses, the teacher does not have the time to work individually with each student on their accent. Therefore, it is up to the student to work on this. I suggest researching the sounds that exist in your target language but not in your native language and to start practicing just the sound and later move on to full words and sentences. A great exercise to gain pronunciation stability is just to read aloud. Stress (think about the words photograph and photographer in English), intonation, rhythm, and speed are just as important as individual sounds. Getting those right will make you sound much more native. You can research guides, common mistakes, how to sound like “x” but one key thing to do is a lot of listening and repetition after native speakers. If you’re not sure how you sound, simply record yourself. You’ll really start to notice your progress. Some sounds take more time but don’t give up—just keep listening and working on yourself.
  2. Learning without context or too much direct translation: Learning an individual word instead of an example sentence from a native speaker will make it much harder for you to use it correctly. Context is also great for our memory because connections can form in our brains. It helps us to learn deeper and produce more natural language easier. And, we shouldn’t translate an entire phrase. We should ask native speakers how to say something in X situation or just borrow examples. Each language expresses itself individually and that’s something that you have to adapt to. Get out of the habit of translating and start thinking like a speaker of your target language ;D
  3. Expecting to learn the language fluently without a lot of exposure: A few courses or knowing some grammar are not enough to adjust your brain to the new language. You won’t understand much in the beginning but you have to keep exposing yourself and working on more difficult things to reach a high level.
  4. Well this one isn’t so much a mistake as it is a misunderstanding: Speaking a new language appears to be just one skill but is really thousands of smaller skills that need to be approached individually.
  5. Something I did when I started learning German was buy (too) many books. Maybe others don’t love books as much as me 😛 And don’t get me wrong, you need a variety of resources, but use the internet and try to check out the books in person before you order too many online. One book contains so much information—you don’t want to feel overwhelmed or be unable to use all what you paid for.
  6. Spending too much time with exercises, grammar rules and flash cards, but not having an exchange partner or someone to speak the language with: You need so much knowledge of the language to be able to understand and speak enough to communicate, but your language skills really develop once you start actively using the language in real-life situations so don’t just stick to the books, try writing, speaking and communicating in the language.
  7. Giving up on the language too soon: Not everything you do will have an immediate effect so don’t give up. Be patient. Don’t compare yourself to others either.
  • For now, I only have 7 in mind. So let’s move on to general tips 😀


~studying German October 2017~


General Tips

  • Keep a grammar cheat-sheet at your desk or on the bathroom mirror.
  • Write hard-to-remember words on the back of your hand. One per day. 🙂
  • Create mental images of the words you are trying to learn in your target language. Search Google images. Don’t just rely on the translation in your native language.
  • Play video games in your target language.
  • Every once in a while, go back to old materials. A refresher is never bad and you can look back on the progress you’ve made.
  • Learn with interesting materials according to your personal interests instead of only working with a text book that may not interest you very much. Try out YouTube videos, online materials, fun stories, and music.
  • Have a notebook just for that language. Stay organized.
  • Stay relaxed when speaking the foreign language. In the beginning, find a language partner who is aware of your level and goals in the language.
  • Look for cognates and FALSE FRIENDS! The cognates will be easier to memorize but will still enlarge your vocabulary. Learning the false friends will not only save you from mistakes, but will also teach you more about the history and linguistics of both languages.
  • Spend timing learning how to conjugate verbs and build correct sentences according to the tense system of that language.
  • Be intentional with your vocabulary learning. What words do you need? What words are you expected to know? Develop an interest for digging deeper into the word bank of the language.  😀
  • When writing a school paper or just practicing the language, write it in your native language first and then translate into target language afterwards. Writing is a great way to make progress with your language level; I suggest also writing in your target language to help get the language integrated into your thoughts until you produce sentences without thinking about it.
  • Look for audio materials with transcriptions or subtitles. Listen to the materials several times and take notes.
  • Spend enough time with materials for learners and with the authentic language. What basic grammar do I need to know to make use of the language? How do native speakers speak the language? Both are important to “take in” and be able to use the language.
  • Build “language islands” and practice speaking. Language islands are stories, experiences, answers to common questions, etc. that may come up during a conversation. Learn correct phrases, structures and practice vocabulary so that you speak more fluently the next time you have a conversation.
  • When listening to a conversation or a talk in your native language, try translating in your head into your target language. You can also translate your target language into your native–this should help to build vocabulary.
  • Don’t expect that you are going to command the language as easily as your native language and realize it is a process not an instant achievement 😉


That’s it for the general tips! Did you learn something new from this post? I’d love to hear from you!

Can’t get enough of languages? Go here –>Language Learners‘ Toolbox

~ Stephanie F.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s