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Common Mistakes Language Learners Make

I’d like to share some of my reflections based on my 15 years teaching English to adults, by looking at some common mistakes students make when learning a language.

Not setting a goal

Why are you learning English? For an exam (Cambridge, British Council, Official Language School)? An interview, for your job, a trip, or just general interest?

Having a clear goal will help motivate you and focus your learning to reach that objective.

Use the CEFR common framework (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) to help you focus on the grammar, vocabulary, and skills you need to reach your goal.

Remember that B2 is operational level; C1 is native; C2 is a highly qualified/educated native.

Setting unrealistic goals

Almost as bad as not having an objective. If you are too ambitious with your timeframes, you might become frustrated at your progress. Moving from beginner level to advanced in 6 months is not realistic for most people. Unless you have the opportunity to live in an English speaking environment and are totally immersed in the language, you will not have sufficient contact with the language to progress that quickly.

With respect to pronunciation, the aim should be on being “understood” in international situations rather than trying to perfect a “Queen’s English” accent. Less than 10% of the UK speak with that accent anyway. Focus on removing any mother tongue interference in your pronunciation.

Not practising

In language learning, as with most things in life, practice makes perfect.

Try to create environments where you can practise ALL your language skills. The possibilities for reading and listening comprehension exercises are endless thanks to the internet. But what about oral and written production? Online courses, language clubs, web tools, virtual classes. Things that will allow you to work on speaking and writing skills.

Think about this analogy: If you want to learn to drive a car, you could read all the books in the world about cars, driving rules, techniques, but they will not be a substitute for actually getting into a car and driving! You need to apply knowledge and practice.

Not being constant

We are all busy. Work, family, maybe we are studying another course. Never have any time? We have to try to find the time and avoid constant starts/stops.

A little each day is better than 2 hours on a Sunday. But 2 hours on a Sunday is better than nothing.

Look for the “dead” times; on the train, waiting for someone, on your lunch break, at the gym. Build the habit of short study periods at regular intervals

Not using the tools available

We live in a time where the internet has changed everything (OK – not always for the better), so make use of the tools at your disposal.

I’ll use another analogy.

You want to get in shape, and you have an idea how to do it – more or less, or you look for information on the internet.

You start to run / bike / walk every week. That’s the equivalent of buying a book and studying on your own.

Or you could go to a gym (or buy a home gym). It has specific machines to work different parts of the body. This is the equivalent of using an online course. There are different elements to work on; grammar/vocabulary/reading comprehension/listening comprehension.

You might go to a spinning/aerobics class. That’s a group class: – teaching dedicated to the whole group – planned and controlled by the instructor/teacher (before they were face-to-face, now they are by videoconference)

You might be fortunate and have a Personal trainer who devises a specific plan for you. This is your 1:1 private teacher who will focus on all the areas where you need it the most.

Don’t stop

If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

Let’s think about our “getting in shape” analogy. Let’s say that after 6 months, you are fit & healthy, lost some weight, have more muscles. Feels good, no?

What will happen if you stop running, cycling, going to the gym? Will you still be in the same shape in 6 months’ time? The answer is of course – no.

The same goes for English learning. It doesn’t matter that you had a B2 level 12 months ago. If you haven’t been using your language skills since then, they will slowly have been eroding.

You’ve put the hard work in to get to your goal, don’t stop now. Maintain the level.

Thanks for reading.

Good luck on your journey to improve your English

Scott Stewart,

Head of Studies, Ardor Learning


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