What would you say if I told you: “You already know everything you need to know about language learning”? “You know the bad study habits you've got into.”
Would you believe me?
The thing is, this might just be true.
You know that language learning isn't rocket science. You know that the most important thing is just doing a little bit every single day.
You know this…and yet you're not progressing as much as you should.
Something's not quite right.
But here's the thing: you probably already know everything you need to know. The first thing you should do is turn the spotlight on what you're already doing!
Bad Study Habits to Avoid
There are some destructive habits out there that are so serious that they can kill your progress.
Here are 17 language learning habits to watch out for.
If you recognise any of these bad learning habits, then you should focus on eliminating them right away, before you even think about trying any other methods.
1. Not writing down new words and phrases
You know how it goes. You come across a new word that you really want to remember… except you've forgotten it by the next day.
Stop wasting all this new language and start writing everything down, it's one of the best learning habits you need to get into!
I input new language directly into my SRS app immediately so it's safely recorded and ready to study.
2. Believing you need a fixed time every day for language study
If you're using this as an excuse for not doing the work – stop! For every month that passes whilst you're still trying to “find the time”, you're missing out on countless hours of potential bite-sized learning on the move. Click here to find out how to get better study habits.
3. Deciding fresh what to study each day
You risk wasting huge amounts of time and focus on deciding what you “feel like” studying each day. That time spent making decisions is detracting from your reserves of concentration that should be spent studying.
Barack Obama knows this – he only wears two colours of suit in order to cut down on decision-making in the morning.
A smarter approach to language learning is to use what I call Sprints – going deep into one particular activity for an extended period of time. Click here for my article on that.
4. Listening to audio without reading along
Don't have the text? Hire someone to transcribe it for you cheaply.
5. Doing language exchanges mostly in English
If your partner keeps slipping back into English, you're as good as wasting your time. Worse, you risk building resentment against them and damaging your self-confidence.
Yes, they're only trying to help, but in fact, they're making it worse. Tackle the problem head-on, get out of your poor study habits and run your language exchanges the right way.
6. “I'll start soon, when _____ has finished”
Not starting is one of the most important habits to break while learning a language! If you don't start, you'll get nowhere.
7. Thinking you're not talented at languages
Language learning is 5% talent, and 95% hard work. The stories you tell yourself define your success. Change the stories. Instead of: “I can't, because I'm…”, try: “I can, because I'm…”
It doesn’t matter how confident you are as a person (well, a little bit of extra confidence doesn’t hurt); this almost irrational fear of looking stupid in front of other people can be as appalling as the thought of walking naked into work or school.
The key to overcoming this fear is by pushing through it.
Honoré de Balzac famously said:
Our greatest fears lie in anticipation.
And it’s true.
So stop worrying about it.
Quit going over and over the worst-case scenario in your head and take the leap into the unknown.
Nobody was born speaking a language and everyone who has ever learned a second one has made mistakes at some point; that’s how we learn.
Making mistakes is not only the best way to improve our command of a foreign language, but it can also be a great way to break the ice between you and your foreign counterpart. Learn to laugh at your mistakes and embrace making them as a way of getting continually better at speaking.
8. Not speaking
Learning takes place when you find a gap in your knowledge of the language. Once you've noticed the gap, you can become more aware of it and begin to figure out how to close it.
Speaking gives you the quickest, most direct feedback possible on your knowledge of the language, and by not speaking regularly you're depriving yourself of this potential to notice and to grow and get into good learning habits.
9. Not listening to the same audio enough times
The major benefits of listening to audio in a foreign language come from repeat listening. You might learn a few new words with the first few listenings, but it's not just about the vocabulary.
By stopping and moving on to the next track you miss out on the more intangible learning that comes from listening to something multiple times and getting really comfortable with it.
10. Blaming grammar
Stop it! You're avoiding facing the real issue.
95% of meaning is thought to be communicated through lexis (i.e. words), and only 5% through grammar.
Grammar is an easy target, but if communication is your aim, then you need to spend time speaking with real people and concerning yourself with getting the message across one way or another.
This time, Uncle Sam is wrong…
I'm not saying grammar isn't important, but the most perfect grammar in the world isn't going to help you out when you're looking to establish a genuine connection with another human being.
For that, you need a big smile and a friendly attitude. Screw the future perfect and the relative pronoun. Focusing solely on grammar is one of the most ineffective study habits you can get into!
11. Feeling foolish for speaking with natives before you're fluent
I suffer from this badly. The danger is, that this feeling often doesn't disappear, even when you actually are fluent. By avoiding speaking with native speakers you risk missing out on a lifetime of opportunities to practice and improve.
Remember that people (even strangers) are concerned with your message first, and your language skills second.
Be confident, remember you're talking to another human being who wants to connect with people just as much as you do, and just tell them what you want to say.
12. Listening/reading to material that's too hard for you
Biting off more than you can chew can be demoralising and counter-productive. Tackling material intended for native speakers can seem like a great idea, but you're most likely to give up halfway through, having not really grasped most of the language within.
The optimal level for study material for most people is for it to be pitched slightly above your current level. This is a core part of the StoryLearning® method.
I try to find things where I understand 90% of it already, and 10% is unknown. That way I can focus all my attention on a small, manageable amount of new language. (Note: if you're looking for immersion material, this doesn't apply)
13. Overestimating The Power Of Immersion
I personally know way too many people who have fallen into this trap; believing that living a few months, or a year in a foreign country and they will come back fluent.
I’m sorry to tell you, but you still have to work pretty hard at it.
You will have to study, practice your speaking, and make every effort to speak the language whenever you can. When abroad, expats like to get together.
And that means that you’ll make a ton of amazing, multicultural friends.
But that also means a lot of speaking in English if you’re not careful.
So choose your “immersion” destination wisely. If you can cope with being in a small village where no one speaks your language, then you’ll have to ask yourself if you can tolerate the loneliness and isolation that may breed, in the name of speaking fluently more quickly.
14. Not doing something every single day
Studying something every day is one of the best study habits to get into.
If you don't look at your language content every day, you're missing out on the benefits that come with regular study. But more importantly, the lack of a regular study schedule makes it more likely you will fall off the wagon and not study regularly at all.
That's the biggest danger of all. Commit to doing something every day, however small.
15. “And then Facebook happened!”
This great comment from Cedric on my Facebook page sums up the troubles of an entire generation.
Estimate the amount of time you have wasted on Facebook using a tool like Screen Time on your iPhone…Then get disturbed, and banish it forever with the Self-Control App for Mac. This tool has saved my life and led to successful study habits.
16. Watching too many movies
If you start to tell yourself that your penchant for movie-watching is a good alternative to studying… think again! It's one of the most ineffective study strategies out there!
By all means, watch foreign-language movies in your downtime, but don't kid yourself that they're playing a big part in raising your language level.
Study is study, and there aren't many good alternatives. Watching movies won't help you with developing study habits. Click here for making the most out of foreign-language movies.
17. Reading language blogs
If you're looking for ways to improve study habits, staring at a screen and pretending to read in your target language isn't going to help!
I'm a big advocate of educating yourself about whatever you're trying to learn, but you risk succumbing to paralysis by analysis.
Make a resolution to stop reading and take action today. The most effective study habits don't include passive learning.
18. Hoarding materials
“Shiny new object” syndrome can lead to spending more time preparing yourself to study, than actually sitting down and getting on with it.
Make yourself a cup of tea, pick a book, sit down, and get on with it. Do that every day for 3 weeks and decide whether it's working.
And don't let the hoarding villain persuade you otherwise!
19. Not being open to culture
If you’re learning a language with a closed mind, it will reflect in your progress.
The idea is not just to learn a language, but to live the language. Be open to finding out about and experimenting with different cultures.
If you aren’t willing to try new foods and celebrate other people’s customs, then you simply won’t get to enjoy the best part of foreign language learning.
You’re far more likely to learn faster when you feel motivated to do so, and the more involved you get in the language you’re learning, the better.
So go celebrate Christmas Day on Christmas Eve, try eating meals with your hands, throwing tomatoes at strangers and dressing up in carnival gear.
20. Making it into a mountain
Ever heard the one about making a mountain out of a molehill?
Well, while learning a new language may be a little bit bigger than a molehill, if you make it into something insurmountable then your brain will shut down before you begin.
The trick here is to realise that learning a language is a marathon and not a sprint. There are ways that you can speed up your learning, obviously, according to necessity and budget; but not everyone is lucky enough to have the time or money to move abroad or take accelerated courses.
So, break it down into chunks and achievable goals.
21. Failing to listen
If you frequently fall into the trap of failing to listen to what a foreign language speaker is saying, the chances are it’s rolled into your fear of losing face.
You see, many of us get so caught up in the necessity to annunciate perfectly, conjugate correctly and deliver a flawless diatribe that we forget to actually listen to what the person is saying.
And that’s not good.
In fact; that’s worse than replying with mistakes, as you’re more than likely going to come out with something irrelevant, or be thrown off keel when they don’t reply as you’re expecting.
Learning a second language starts with a silent period. Silent because you should be listening, learning and assimilating information. Like a baby when they’re learning to speak.
Start developing good study habits
So, do any of these bad study habits sound familiar? 🙂
If you recognise any of these, then why not just pick one and commit to eliminating it from your language learning this week?
Leave me a comment to say which bad habit you'll be kicking! If you have any tips for beating any of them, let me know too!
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