There’s more than one right way to learn a language. Right now, we’re going to focus on how not to practice a language. Relying on the wrong methods can limit how far you go in your journey.
Some examples of wrong methods include focusing on one skill over all others, and heavily relying on tools. Fortunately, it’s never too late to correct your mistakes.
If you’re using any of these methods, you can always follow these tips and start studying smarter.
Table of Contents
- The 5 Worst Ways to Practice a Language
- Why Are These Methods Ineffective?
- Effective Language Learning Tips
The 5 Worst Ways to Practice a Language
Learning from your mistakes is part of the language learning process, but if these mistakes are in your larger learning strategy, they could set you up for difficulty later on. Here are the most ineffective language learning methods:
1. Memorizing vocabulary without context
Building a robust vocabulary is important for learning a language, memorizing lists of words isn’t what it’s all about. In order to remember the words you learn and put them to use, you’ll need to know some context.
2. Focusing solely on grammar
Grammar matters in effective communication. But putting too much focus on it or expecting yourself to be perfect can set you up for a hard time. It’s best to practice grammar in connection with other skills.
3. Neglecting speaking and listening skills
All the grammar and vocabulary in the world won’t do you a lot of good if you can’t have a conversation in your target language. That requires working on your speaking and listening skills.
4. Relying too much on translation software
Translation software products can be helpful for a variety of purposes. But if you rely on them too heavily in your language learning journey, they can set you back. You don’t have to banish them from your life altogether, but you should use them sparingly.
5. Not immersing yourself in the language and culture
Language doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is shaped by the culture it lives in. Learning about the culture associated with your new language and finding ways to use it in your everyday life will deepen your understanding of the language and open new doors for you.
Why Are These Methods Ineffective?
It’s true that every person learning a new target language learns a little differently. But for most, the practices above don’t help you become proficient quickly. Here’s why:
Memorizing vocabulary without context
Decks on decks of flashcards won’t build your language skills on their own. Words will stick to your brain better if you learn vocabulary in context, especially if it’s similar to how you would use the words in real life. You can learn vocabulary in context through:
- Language learning programs that teach by context
- Reading and looking up unfamiliar words
- Talking about real-life things with conversation partners
To remember what you already learned while you learn new material, use the spaced repetition method.
Focusing solely on grammar
How good you need to be at grammar depends on what you’re planning to do with your language. If your goal is to go to school or work in another country, there are certain standards that you’ll need to meet. If you’re learning because you want to go on a trip, connect with your heritage, or other more people-focused reasons, the only thing you need to worry about is communicating clearly enough that they can understand you.
In fact, focusing too much on “proper” grammar and speech can get in the way of understanding speakers of your target language in informal settings.
Neglecting speaking and listening skills
Holding a conversation is vital for any language learner, but that won’t come naturally from learning the vocabulary and grammar. Speaking well and understanding what you hear are both skills that need to be nurtured.
The first time you say a word out loud in a new language will probably feel awkward, but the more you do it, the less awkward it will feel. That’s why it’s best to start speaking out loud from the beginning.
Relying too much on translation software
We all know about translation tools. Some people incorrectly claim that they take away the need to learn a language, but that’s neither here nor there. Though these tools can be helpful in a pinch, using them too much can be detrimental to your language learning journey. Over-reliance on these tools will make it harder to remember anything for yourself. The longer the text you translate, the wonkier the translation gets.
It’s also important to be able to think of sentences using the words you know in your target language as opposed to thinking in translation and using these tools for everything can stop you from getting there.
Not immersing yourself in the language and culture
Language immersion: we’ve all heard the term and all have certain ideas of what it looks like. Though it would be great to move abroad and live every moment of your life in your target language, that’s not realistic for most people. That doesn’t mean you can’t use immersion tactics though.
In fact, if you’re not immersing yourself into your language and learning about the culture it comes from you’re missing a lot of important context. That, and learning about other cultures is cool and interesting.
Effective Language Learning Tips
Now that you know about language learning mistakes to avoid and why, what should you do instead? Follow these tips to take an effective, well-rounded approach to learning a new language.
Learn vocabulary in context
Instead of learning vocabulary from flashcard decks and lists without context, there are a variety of smart, engaging ways to learn vocabulary. Most popular language learning apps teach vocabulary in-context in various ways. Rosetta Stone doesn’t even use translations at all, but presents all material in the target language.
Reading and conversing with native speakers will also teach you new words in context. Learning words that are most relevant to your life can also set you up for successful real-life language use since those are the things you’ll need to talk about most.
Balance grammar with other language skills
Several of the ways you can learn vocabulary in context also apply to learning grammar. The same apps that teach vocabulary in this way take a similar approach to grammar. Reading and listening to native speakers will show you the way people use the grammar rules to communicate in real life. The most important thing is to get comfortable with making mistakes and learning from them.
Practice speaking and listening skills
Speaking a new language out loud and listening to real people can be intimidating when you’re a beginner. If you sound bad at first, don’t be discouraged. That’s the first step to sounding good. Starting with the basic sound building blocks will make it easier to pronounce new words when you see them. Reading out loud can get you comfortable with speaking without having to think of what to say yourself. Listening to the news is an effective way for beginners to practice listening because it’s meant to be easy to understand.
If you’re not comfortable talking to other people yet, talk to your pet. Once you are ready to start talking to people, there are several ways to find conversation partners.
Use translation software wisely
Using translation software isn’t inherently bad. It’s just important to use them for specific things and not rely on them too heavily. While using them for large blocks of text isn’t a good idea for accuracy or your learning, it’s completely fine to use them to look up unfamiliar words you encounter in the wild so you can keep the interaction going.
Immerse yourself in the language and culture
How can you immerse yourself in your new language and learn about the culture without buying a plane ticket? The secret is to get creative and connect language learning activities to things you’re already interested in. Watching foreign films and TV shows that are interesting to you anyway, watching DIY videos for types of projects you already enjoy, and even narrating your life around the house are all ways to fit language practice in with your everyday life. The more you explore entertainment, arts, food, and literature from the culture you’re studying, the more you’ll learn and the deeper you’ll go.
If you’ve been memorizing vocabulary without context, focusing solely on grammar, neglecting your speaking and listening skills, over-using translation software, or not immersing yourself in the language and culture, you can always change course. No matter how far you’ve gotten, you’ll get further by learning vocabulary and grammar in-context, not waiting to practice speaking and listening, using translation tools sparingly, and using immersion tactics.
– Luca Harsh is a Chicago-based freelance content writer. They speak a lot of French and a little of whatever language they’re currently trying out on an app.
Rosetta Stone is a property of IXL Learning, Inc.
Rosetta Stone is a property of IXL Learning Inc.