February 28, 2020 English Learning
The most common mistakes advanced students make when learning a language
Berta Caragol Pugés
Do you have an intermediate or advanced level in a foreign language but feel that you are not making much progress anymore?
Don’t worry, it’s a very common phenomenon known as the ‘intermediate barrier’ or ‘intermediate plateau’, which a lot of students experience when reaching a certain level. Overcoming this barrier is one of the hardest parts of the learning process.
First of all, you should know that the rate of improvement is best when you’re just starting out with a new language.
It’s the last 20% that is always the most difficult to reach. But of course, the main goal when studying a foreign language is to become fluent in it, so in this article we will try to explain what the most common mistakes advanced students make and how to avoid them.
The first problem students experience when they reach an intermediate or advanced level is a lack of motivation. And it makes sense having mentioned the “intermediate plateau.”
Not seeing any progress or improvement can lead to a loss of motivation.
What are you doing wrong? What can you do to get that motivation back?
- Having a structured routine or habit is very beneficial, but maybe you have followed that routine for too long and what you need is a change of scenery to renew your interest and motivation.
If you normally practice before going to bed, switch it up and try reviewing your vocabulary in the morning. If you usually practice on the couch with foreign language books or movies, get up and move! Dance and sing to some popular music in your target language. You can even try a new language altogether!
- Some students lose sight of their progress, when it’s very important to take stock of it! Take time to see how far you’ve come: watch an episode of a TV show that you couldn’t understand a few months ago, find out how many new words you’ve learnt, and update your learning goals! Maybe your goals are a bit outdated. If that’s the case, set new ones and make them as concrete as possible. Doing so will make it easier to measure your progress from now on.
- Talk it out with someone who understands what you’re going through. You don’t have to deal with these feelings alone. Remember that most students will more than likely have experienced these same obstacles, so it could be helpful to share this with others. It would be ideal to talk about it with your language partner or another speaker of your target language.
- Take a break: if you’re not feeling it, it’s also ok to take a break from the language. It’s better to take a breather and wait until inspiration strikes again, rather than forcing yourself to do something you’re not enjoying anymore.
Outsourcing the language process:
If you want to learn a new language, the responsibility is yours. Everything depends on you.
Of course you can get help on the way, but progress will entirely depend on you. Knowing this will allow you to expand your horizons. This, of course, will require will power and commitment.
Not choosing the right learning tools:
When a student decides to learn a language on their own, they often don’t realise that simply choosing the right learning materials can be the biggest challenge.
There are thousands of online learning resources, which will complicate the selecting process, but here are some tips:
- Choose a single basic resource for learning vocabulary.
- Add more content – once you feel comfortable and confident with what you’ve learnt, add new content to diversify your learning process. That way you will also be able to start using the vocabulary you’ve learnt. Once you’ve chosen a main resource and additional content, you’ll just have to start practicing regularly.
Not practicing regularly:
The key to success is regularity, not talent. However, some people think that, in order to learn and practice a language, it’s necessary to sit and study for hours. They are wrong!
In fact, that is something you’ll have to avoid if you don’t want to get bored and quit. Instead, try to integrate the language you’re studying into your everyday life.
Having goals that are not specific enough:
This is one of the most common mistakes that students make when studying a language. For example, wanting to learn Spanish is too vague and difficult to measure.
When we start learning a language, we are super motivated, but this motivation diminishes over time. That’s why we have to constantly review our goals and update them, always remembering to make them as specific as possible.
Constantly challenge yourself with new skills to learn – it’s a good way to keep yourself motivated and improving. Being able to watch Spanish films in Spanish, reading Asterix and Obelix in French, traveling around South America and talking to locals… those are good, specific goals.
Stop making up excuses and telling yourself that you don’t have enough time, that you are not good at languages, etc.
We are all capable of learning a foreign language and we all have time to do it – you just have to find it. Some people will need more patience, more consistency and better learning strategies, but everyone can learn a new language. Remember, it’s your attitude, not your aptitude, that will your determine success.
Lack of curiosity:
Wanting to learn a foreign language, but not having any interest in the culture surrounding it, will affect your motivation and cause you to see the learning process as merely an academic exercise. It’s been demonstrated that students who show interest in the culture of their target language succeed more in their studies. A language is not only a grammatical structure or an alphabet, but the expression of certain ways of thinking. It is through language that culture is expressed.
- Think about your learning process as if you were getting to know somebody. In that situation, you would ask this person about their interests, hobbies, etc., and you would analyze their behavior in different situations to try to better understand their personality.
- Find a country whose official language is your target language and find out about its history, famous writers, art, sports, religion… The list is infinite.
Students with a low tolerance for ambiguity have more difficulties when studying a foreign language. Having a flexible attitude when studying a language is key. You have to be able to adapt yourself to different situations, contexts, and learning materials.
- Be resourceful. When not knowing how to say something, try to find a different way to express yourself by looking for synonyms.
Using one single learning method
We all have different preferences, some of us like to focus on grammar, others like to listen to podcasts and repeat them tirelessly. None of those methods are bad, however, depending on only one will limit your learning.
Combining different methods will expose you to different explanations of a topic or concept. In addition to that, you will practice all skills (writing, speaking, listening, reading).
- When looking for a language course, choose one that helps you develop all skills. If you opt for studying on your own, combine different methods such as grammar books, listening exercises, and language apps, like MosaLingua.
Fear of speaking
You can practice all language skills on your own except for one: speaking.
When you have to speak, other feelings come into play, like insecurity, shame, and fear of making mistakes, amongst others.
The more you speak, the more aware you’ll be of your limitations and mistakes. Speaking will help you identify them and correct them immediately. If you never speak, you will never be able to evaluate your progress.
The only thing left to say is…have fun!
Yes, studying a language should be fun. If you’re not enjoying the learning process, you should probably change the way you’re approaching the study. If you like to read, start reading short stories or articles in your target language about stuff you’re interested in.
This will help you learn words in their context. If you spend a lot of hours on social networks, use these to improve your language skills; if you like to watch movies and tv shows, look for good ones in the language you want to learn…the options are endless.
I hope you found this article useful and wish you good luck in your learning process!
Berta is one of the translators and content creators of MosaLingua. She’s always been interested in foreign languages and cultures, that’s why she studied Translation and Interpreting. Nowadays, she works remotely combining translating and Spanish teaching. Her job allows her to travel a lot, she’s already been to more than 35 countries!