They say that you learn from your mistakes, and they’re not entirely wrong. Understanding where we have gone wrong is the first step to putting things right again. When it comes to language learning, people think of mistakes as meaning problems with spelling and grammar, or using the wrong word in the wrong situation. The truth, however, is quite different.

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There are great specters hiding in the shadows of our language-learning experience. These are the bigger, more fundamental mistakes we make in our learning, far bigger than any error in vocabulary or tone. See if any of these fit your own experience. If they do, then perhaps some changes are in order!

🤔 Not practicing outside of the learning space

When you’ve finished your classes with your native speaker teacher, do you continue your practice on your own? Some might feel like they’ve “done their part” for the week by attending the class, but that’s a mistake right there. Learning is an ongoing process. The classroom facilitates part of the learning, but you must carry on that learning momentum throughout the period between that and your next lesson. Only in this way can you retain information you’ve obtained and build on it.

💬 Failing to make use of new words and phrases daily

Did you use a word from class once in the time after you learned it? If so, that’s a good start, but did you continue to practice using it on a daily basis? If not, then you are making a critical error. Yes, usage is the key to retention and mastery, but it has to be regular and frequent usage. This is especially true in the crucial time that follows the first time you learn something.

📖 Skipping over reading

When you started learning this language, perhaps you said to yourself “I’m going to focus entirely on speaking, so I needn’t bother with the reading stuff.” This, once again, was a critical error. Reading has a lot to offer your overall learning. It provides a great source of vocabulary, allows you to see varied sentence structures used in real context, and helps to ingrain in your mind those structures and words as they are used by native speakers.

Learners who couple their speaking and listening with a healthy amount of regular reading --- even just a small amount each day --- will find themselves progressing and understanding their second language far better than their counterparts who don’t.

🔉 Not taking advantage of the audio-visual media all around you

This is the age of the Internet and the smartphone. The entire library of world information is right there in your pocket. What possible reason could you have for ignoring it? Decades ago, it was much harder to find handy materials to use while you’re commuting or waiting in line for coffee. Through your smartphone, you have access to videos on YouTube, Podcasts and similar free broadcasts, audiobooks, personal blogs and much more. It’s all there, and you can use it whenever you have a spare moment. Learners from decades past would have killed for such convenience!

🎓 Relying on a non-native speaking teacher

When you are just starting out learning a language, it’s understandable that you might want to learn with someone who is fluent in your native language. They help to get you off the ground, teaching you the basic elements of the language. This gives you that crucial first foothold on your mountain climb.

Once you’ve reached that stage, however, it’s time to make the switch and start learning with a native speaker. Why? Having a teacher who also speaks your native language leaves too wide the temptation to revert to your mother tongue when asking questions and getting explanations. This is a recipe for slow learning, and much wasted time. Once you’ve started on your way, be bold and take the harder route of a native speaker. It’s challenging at first, but as you start to progress, you’ll quickly wonder why anyone uses any other method than this.

Mistakes are inevitable - action is imperative

We all of us are bound to make errors in our language-learning journey. The good thing about it all is that there is always time and opportunity to fix problems that we discover. Never believe that you go past any “point of no return” when it comes to making mistakes. Everything can be put right, and you can return to a productive and successful experience learning a second or third language. Remember, every mistake is also a learning opportunity!

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