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How Not To Learn A Language – Avoid These 8 Common Mistakes

How Not To Learn A Language – Avoid These 8 Common Mistakes

Maybe you have to learn a foreign language to get a new job, communicate with colleagues abroad or just need it because you want to travel and not feel helpless. In any case, you are part of an exclusive club as only about 17% of US citizens are able to speak a foreign language! But apart from the statistics, there is an even more worrying trend. The way foreign languages are taught is full of pitfalls and not many schools are doing it right. Here are 8 wrong ways to learn a foreign language. So if your teacher is insisting on any of these, it might be a good idea to find another school. We need to keep in mind that language study is not a one-size-fits-all exercise as learning styles will vary.

1. Learning grammar rules

The grammar of a foreign language is full of complicated uses, exceptions and fine distinctions. Teaching these rules might be useful when writing an academic essay but at beginner level, grammar will not help a student to understand or to communicate in the language.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency decided to abandon the grammar based approach when teaching their border agents Spanish. They prioritized the language tasks the agents needed such as communicating with immigrants, calming detained families and explaining legal rights in simple terms. You can see why knowledge of the subjunctive here would be pretty useless! They helped them develop the language skills for these tasks by using role play exercises and videos. At the end of the course, there was a dramatic improvement in their Spanish competence.

2. Learning lots of new vocabulary

Did you know that you only need a limited number of words in any language which are used over and over again? Yes, in English, you can get by for most purposes by just using 300 words. The same goes for most other languages.

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How do you get to know what these words are in your chosen language? Just download an app such as Anki app on your phone and you are ready to go. The system uses flashcard methods which shows you the new words at strategically spaced intervals to help you remember them. The visual element in helping to memorize new words has been stressed by Tim Ferris. He found that reading comics in Japanese was a turning point for his Japanese language skills.

3. Repeating meaningless sentences

If you find that you are asked to repeat meaningless sentences which have no context or even relevance to you personally, then it is unlikely that you will become proficient in the target language. Stephen Krashen, the distinguished linguist, has made it very clear that unless you can understand the messages from comprehensible input, then there is little chance that you will be able to learn the target language. This, he believes, is the most effective way to learn a language. He illustrates this very clearly in the video below.

4. Reading classics in the target language

Experts now agree that reading classics or even simplified versions of them is not the most efficient way to acquire a language. The language may be outdated and the vocabulary archaic. A better alternative is to read children’s books in the target language. This is a great way to get exposure to the language, its essential grammar and vocabulary. Everything is illustrated and the language is perfect for beginners. There is an added advantage in that if you know the story of a fairy tale then that is a great help to contextualize new words and be able to guess their meaning correctly.

5. Underestimating listening skills

The key to communication is understanding what people are saying in your target language. If you neglect this, then you are on the road to failure. Many schools make listening a rather boring exercise and insist on answering comprehension questions which are barely relevant. The result is that students’ listening skills are way below par and this is an obstacle to effective communication.

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Listening must be a daily exercise. With MP3 podcasts, TV shows, news broadcasts, radio, YouTube and a host of other resources, the choice is embarrassing. Students need to listen when they are jogging, commuting or eating alone. This is the easiest and cheapest way you can get to full immersion which would, of course, be ideal.

6. Learning a language the traditional way

Studying grammar and memorizing endless lists of words is not the best way at all. There are now apps which are widely available and I, personally, think that they can complement more traditional methods, so maybe a mixed approach is best.

Did you know that one free app called Duolingo has 50 million users? Experts have said that one college term of language tuition is equivalent to using this app for about 35 hours. But some learners yearn for more formal verb tables and a more structured approach, so find out what works best for you.

7. Not exploiting cognates

“Mastering the vocabulary of most European languages means simply learning to recognize a number of old friends under slight disguises.” – Henry Sweet

Cognates are words which are similar in English and other languages. For example, English and Spanish have lots of words which originally derive from Latin. Learning about cognates is often underestimated because people are obsessed with ‘false friends’. If you say ‘embarazada’ in Spanish, thinking that it may be the same as ‘embarrassed’, you are telling people that you are pregnant! This is an example of a ‘false friend’. But cognates are a great resource as well and language learners need to be aware of this, rather than obsessed with making mistakes.

For example, the following English words:

  • mechanical
  • historical
  • ideological
  • ethical
  • cultural

have almost identical equivalents in Dutch, German, Swedish and Norwegian.

8. Seeing learning a language as a task

Those students who regard the whole language learning process as a means to an end or to achieve a certain goal are going to find the task an uphill one, if they are not passionately involved

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The best way to approach it is to regard it as opening up a box of opportunities to learn about a new culture, to enjoy new literature, movies, computer games, and songs. All your favorite activities can be done in the language you are learning. Chat to new friends on Skype, update your status on social media and reply to emails. Organize a trip to the country to try out your new language skills. This will make the whole process so much more enjoyable and also make your learning really much easier.

Let us know in the comments how you overcame any obstacles when you studied a foreign language.

Featured photo credit: Jumbled wooden letters close up via shutterstock.com

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Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on November 12, 2018

Do You Want to Know the Secret to Living a Fulfilling Life?

Do You Want to Know the Secret to Living a Fulfilling Life?

Don’t we all want to live a full, happy and satisfied life? For some of us, it need not be a long life as long as it’s been a fulfilling life of achievements, happiness and no regrets. But, how many of us actually go on to experience that entirely? It sometimes sounds more like a pipe dream–a fantasy rather than reality.

And then you’ll also get comments from some, saying that this ‘fulfilling life’ is only possible if you’re so rich that you don’t have to care about working, paying the bills or providing for your family. While there is some truth to that, I’m happy to say that financial freedom isn’t the only answer to living a fulfilling life.

Living a Fulfilling Life is Within Reach

Anyone can pursue a life of fullness, and it all starts with the willingness to learn. How many years has it been since you last attended a class in school? If you’re well into your adult years as a working professional, chances are it’s been a while. Do you remember the times where you had to wake up for early morning lectures? Or the times where you were rushing through a paper or project? And, of course there were the endless exams that you had to cram for.

As a young college student, I remember looking forward to the time when I would finally be done with school! No more homework, no more grades to worry about, no more stress! The learning was finally done and I could enter the working world.

Not so much!

Now that I’ve finally entered the working world, there are moments where I do wish to be a student again; it seemed less stressful then!

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There is simply so much out there that I still need to learn and experience. Yet I find myself pressed for time. With family commitments, my business and my own social life to juggle, I’ve had to keep on finding for new ways to learn and absorb new information efficiently. Over the years, I’ve found that by learning new skills and knowledge, I was able to find answers and solutions to my problems, which allowed me to achieve a greater sense of fulfillment.

Learning Never Ends

The truth is, learning never ends. Generally speaking, it is true that a formal education and the resulting qualifications are important in securing good jobs; jobs that allow you to excel, earn more and perhaps become more successful in our chosen career. But going to school is only one type of learning. All throughout your life, you’re learning in many ways. All these experiences shape and grow you into the person that you are today.

There are many opportunities to further your knowledge and develop the skills you need throughout life. Knowledge can be acquired and skill-sets can be developed anywhere. However, lifelong learning is about creating and maintaining a positive attitude to learning both for personal and professional development.

Many people overlook the fact that learning can take place anywhere and in many forms. Most would tend to think of learning as the years spent in a learning institute, which occurs mostly in their younger days. And once you go out into the working world, your ‘learning’ ends.

This is not how it has to be–in fact, lifelong learning is a gift that keeps on giving.

The Importance of Lifelong Learning

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Why is it important to become a lifelong learner?

A lifelong learner is motivated to learn and develop because they want to; it is a deliberate and voluntary act. Lifelong learning can enhance our understanding of the world around us, provide us with more and better opportunities, and improve our quality of life.

You’ll Remain Relevant in the Workplace

With advancements in society today, the human life expectancy continues to increase, which means more people are also retiring at a later age. So no matter what stage of life you’re in, being a lifelong learner brings its own rewards. It means we can get more personal satisfaction from our lives and jobs as we understand more about who we are and what we do.

This can lead to better results and a more rewarding working day in turn. Whether it’s for advancing your career, a personal interest or wanting to pursue new dreams, learning automatically pushes you forward towards progress and enhances your wellbeing.

You’ll Increase Your Earning Potential

From a financial point of view, a more highly skilled and knowledgeable worker is an asset to any company. This also leads to faster promotion with associated salary increases.

Someone who can offer more expertise will be of more value not just to employers but also to customers. Expertise is also, often, a key quality of an effective leader.

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And since you’ll constantly be accumulating knowledge, you’ll have an edge on those who don’t value lifelong learning and can’t bring as much to the table. Your extra knowledge will translate into transferable skills, which means you’ll always be primed to blow the competition out of the water.

Learning Gives You Options

Of course, one of the most rewarding reasons for continuous learning, is that it gives you options! Successfully changing career path in mid-life and spending time informally developing expertise is more common than ever, especially during rapidly changing market conditions.

Whatever your age, it’s never too late to start fresh in life. When you start educating yourself and exposing yourself to new knowledge and information, you widen your opportunities. This will allow you to do more than what you may currently be doing, or give you a way out if you’re not happy or fulfilled with where you’re at now.

Our economy is shifting increasingly towards short-term and part-time contracts with more flexible work-patterns. We have to adapt to changes going on in the work-world, make more of ourselves by stepping out of our comfort zones, and break the false ideas about our potential and how we believe life is going.

Gain More with Cornerstone Skills

You may be well into your career, but feel like somehow, something is still missing. Or maybe you’re not entirely happy with where you’re at in your career path and feel it’s time to reflect and perhaps do something new. Or you might be thinking of retiring soon, and thinking about next steps after retirement.

The learning never needs to stop!

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This can be your chance to go after a dream or interest that you’ve always had (but never had the opportunity, or time, to pursue). This could finally be the time for you to create the change that you know you should have made ages ago.

Why not take the first step to learn about 7 important Cornerstone Skills, which will help take your life to the next stage?

Whatever situation you’re in, having these 7 Cornerstone Skills will no doubt equip you to tackle the challenges of life much more efficiently. Don’t let age, your limitations or a comfort zone stop you from seeking greater rewards and self-improvement.

Transformation and change is in your hands–you have the power to make big things happen, and we can help teach you the skills. Don’t let life pass you by! It’s time to pursue a fulfilling and happy life.

Featured photo credit: Joseph Chan via unsplash.com

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