Are You Learning Foreign Language The Wrong Way?

About the Author: Joyce Del Rosario is a career and education blogger and she is a part of the team behind Open Colleges and InformED, one of Australia’s leading providers of Open Learning and online accredited distance education.

Most people would agree that there’s no one right way to learn a foreign language. We’re all different, and as such, we tend to learn in different ways. Some of us are visual learners; others are auditory learners, while others are “do-ers” and learn best by carrying out a physical activity.

That said, there certainly are “wrong” or at least largely ineffective methods of learning. Popular advice tells us that we learn a language by hard study and memorization, as well as forcing ourselves to speak, whether or not we have a perfect grasp of the grammar and vocabulary.

However, recent studies have shown that intensive grammar study and vocabulary memorization are of limited value, and that in fact, forcing yourself to speak before you are ready does nothing for language acquisition. Here are some of the most commonly made mistakes of language-learning:

Memorizing vocabulary

When looking to learn a foreign language, one of the first things most people do is head out and buy a phrase book, which they then proceed to memorize religiously. However, while knowing a list of 20 new words in a new language is all good and well, they won’t do you any good unless you know how to put them together and form a sentence that can be understood.

Learning only from native speakers

There is a common misconception that a native speaker of a particular language will be a better teacher than someone who has learned it as a second or third language. However, a study published in the Journal of Psycholinguistic research shows that we may actually learn a language better and quicker when taught by someone who speaks in the same accent that we do.

Practicing before understanding

The common myth tells us that the best way to learn a new language is to take your limited knowledge and start speaking as soon and as much as possible. However, research shows that most successful language learners first go through what is known as a “silent period” where they simply observe, listen and gather knowledge.

Forcing yourself to practice before you actually understand what and why you are saying something the way you are saying it is not productive. Once you understand, the speaking will come naturally.

Focusing too much on context

Some people attempt to understand words from the context in which they are used. This method of learning relies on the assumption that some words are very important to understand, while others can be kind of “guessed” from the context.

Unfortunately, this leads to many misunderstandings and students who think they understand when really they don’t. As a general rule, it is always better to look up any words you don’t fully understand, to ensure that you get the bigger picture.

Using only one learning method

There are many different language-learning methods, from writing to listening, and because some people learn more easily with one method, they tend to focus only on one aspect of the learning process.

For example, some people will listen to a language, but not bother with reading, writing or speaking, while others will read as much as possible, but fail to listen, which results in mistakes.

Learning through only one method is largely ineffective, and is the primary reason why some people can live in a particular country for years and years but never actually make much progress towards becoming fluent in the local language.

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