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What separates the stars from the mediocre language learner?
Here are some common reasons why you end up a mediocre language learner.
1. Not Taking Responsibility for Your Learning
You depend on everyone but yourself. You think that’s your teacher’s job to teach you.
That’s not how it works.
Your teacher can guide you along. but you must learn for yourself.
Your success or failure at learning a language is entirely on you. You are the only one who really cares whether you learn a language or not.
If you don’t care, why should anyone else?
2. Depending on Motivation
This is something that happens even to the best of us. I’m guilty of this.
If we are not motivated, we don’t really care whether we get our studying done or not.
On days when motivation is far, far, away, it is easy to say, “Let’s do it tomorrow.”
Then tomorrow becomes another tomorrow, and our progress grinds to a halt.
Don’t make the mistake of relying on motivation.
Come up with a schedule, and stick to it.
Sooner or later, your brain will get the message. It will be much easier to do things, even when motivation is absent.
3. Not Putting in Consistent Effort
This is also known as, “I’ll study when I have the time.”
If you say that, you’ll never find the time.
Instead, say, “No, this matters to me. I’ll make the time for it.”
Each time you do something when your body resists, you get stronger for it.
It becomes easier to do what you ought to do, what you have decided to do, even if you don’t feel like doing it.
Or, in my case, Spending Time Reading About Languages Instead of Actually Studying.
I know, I know. It’s especially easy to get distracted reading about interesting facts about your target language. Or the posts of other language learners.
Basically, anything that doesn’t involve real brain engagement.
If all you do is read interesting facts about the language you want to learn (in your native language), then you aren’t really learning.
There’s also the usual procrastination where you put it off until later.
5. Putting Off the Hard Stuff Till Later
We would all rather only do what we are good at, because at least we don’t feel so terrible about ourselves.
But to learn a language and become good at it requires a whole range of skills, from writing, to reading, to listening, and speaking.
It’s very tempting to only focus on what you are good at, and ignore the other skills.
For me, the hard part was speaking. Grammar wasn’t that hard; I’d rather do grammar drills than speak.
While I still don’t speak from the very first day, I try to get used to speaking as much as possible in my target language as early as possible.
Don’t think that you can do it “later” or wait until you know more about the language.
The best time is now.
6. Doing Only What is Easy
Yes, language learning shouldn’t make you want to tear your hair out.
But some amount of work is also required.
If something is too easy, then you probably aren’t learning.
It might not be all that fun initially, but it can bring something better when you’re done: The feeling of accomplishment.
That feeling is better than fun.
7. Continually Searching for That Perfect Language Resource
There is no perfect language resource. Just get started with what resources you know can help, and work from there.
Progress is made one step at a time, and sometimes that step is as simple as getting started.
Take the first step.
When you start, try to stick with it for at least a week. Better would be a month.
A day is usually too short to tell whether something is really good or not.
Also, if you spend all your time trying out new resources, how much can you really learn? You have to start from the beginning each time, and you encounter material you have already mastered.
8. Refusing to Try Out New Things
At the same time, be careful not to go to the other extreme, and refuse to give up any of the habits you have in place.
This can include changing the language resources you are currently using, or even changing your schedule to spend more time on one activity.
If you don’t experiment with new things, how would you know when something better comes along?
Don’t get too comfortable with any one resource to the point where you are simply using it for the sake of using it.
9. Studying Multiple Languages at Once
Trying to learn multiple languages at once is generally a bad idea.
By this, I mean seriously studying more than one language at a time, and trying to get better in all of them.
It is possible to learn two languages at once, but it’s usually much more effective to go about it one at a time.
Anything more than two is definitely asking for trouble.
Our brains aren’t really all that good at handling more than one thing at a time. (I think this has something to do with how we cannot effectively multitask.)
This is not trying to maintain the languages you know at your current level.
This is really studying with the intention of improving.
I have tried it before, choosing a different language to focus on each day.
The progress was really slow, and it was frustrating. There was never enough time to really get comfortable with the material before I had to move on.
Due to the way our brain needs repetition to get new material to stick. you will be better off reviewing material in one language for a week at a time.
Even if you don’t want to stick to a language for long, try for at least a month of consistent study before switching.
10. Giving Up
This is the worst of them all.
You might be a mediocre language learner now, but that can change.
Unless you choose to give up. If you give up, then that’s it.
It’s really the end.
The only failure is giving up.
Those who have succeeded have failed more times than you have tried.
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