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Are You Making One of These 6 Mistakes as an English Learner?

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Wed, Jan 02, 2013 @ 07:02 AM

number 6It's 2013! A brand new year! A brand new chance for you to change some of your old habits and ways of thinking when it comes to learning English.

This is your chance to transform those old methods into new techniques and ways of approaching the challenge that learning English presents to you.

Today we have some advice from an EFL teacher in South Korea. Anne Merritt recently published an article in The Telegraph about 5 things that many English students (possibly including you) do wrong when they try to learn English. I have added one more idea of my own that I believe is another major hurdle that many students encounter.

Ready to find out what the mistakes are and whether or not you are making any of them? Keep reading!



6 Mistakes You Might Be Making as an English Learner




1) You aren't practicing your listening enough


English learners must practice listeningThis is a real and valid problem that one of my students recently encountered when he traveled to Boston for a week.

Despite having practiced for hours and hours before arriving in Boston, when he got there he was overwhelmed and wasn't able to understand what people were saying because he wasn't used to listening so intensely, 12 hours per day.

We decided to set a new schedule where he would practice his listening at home between our lessons, at least 3 or 4 times per week.

If you decide to try this, remember that it's ok to put in just 10 minutes of focused listening practice per day, but do it regularly.



Here are some sites that you can use:


  • kid with headphonesNPR (National Public Radio): This site is great for upper-intermediate or advanced students. It offers 5-minute interview clips on current issues in the news. They usually interview 2 to 4 people with contrasting opinions on the issues. It's a great way to practice listening to a variety of voices and regional accents. Go to the homepage and click on the "listen" tab and select an interview.
  • MSNBC Video: If you want to practice your listening by hearing about breaking news events in a very fast-paced broadcast news video format, this site is for you. Make it your homepage and watch a new video first thing every morning.
  • Ello: If you are looking for a more structured listening format, you can check out this site. You can choose from 3 levels including beginner, intermediate, and advanced. You can also view the transcripts and choose to hear conversations between speakers of British, Australian, American or Canadian English. 
  • 5 Minute English: This is another great site for intermediate students who want to listen to a short, realistic conversation with a transcript. You can also take a quiz after listening.


In addition to practicing your listening with a formal tool like a news clip, you can also get used to practicing your English listening in your daily life. Check out this post for more information about how to do that: Practice English Anywhere Through Daily Listening.




2) You aren't curious about the language and the culture


not a curious catAs Anne Merritt stated in her article, a super high level of intelligence isn't really necessary to learn a foreign language. You don't need to be Einstein ok?! Well that's great news!

However, one thing that is necessary is curiosity.

When you learn a new vocabulary word or idiom, you don't just learn the word.

You learn something about the people and the way they view the world.

Language opens the door for an unlimited number of connections with people who see the world differently.

Does this fact make you excited? It should!



Not feeling curious? Here is what you can do:


curiosity in Language learning

  • Use movies and TV shows to practice your English: Who doesn't love the TV show Friends? Try to watch a new TV show or movie in English (with or without subtitles, depending on your level) every week. When you are truly interested in the plot and the lives of the characters, you will be much more eager to figure out what they are saying.
  • Focus on the people: Never let yourself forget what language learning is really about. It is about connecting with people. Unless you are a linguist who plans to dissect the language for academic purposes and research, you are going to use it every day in your new life in the United States. That is a great thing! Why? Because with some level of proficiency, you now have the ability to connect with millions of people with whom you couldn't connect before. I think that is so cool! Focus on the people and your curiosity might surge.




3) You don't like uncertainty


uncertainty in language learningWhat could be more uncertain than learning a new language and living in a new country?

It's a huge risk and you are constantly making yourself vulnerable.

You are putting yourself out in the world and saying, "hey I am probably going to make some mistakes here but that's ok. I am learning." If you aren't doing that, then you are probably sitting at home because you are scared and you aren't learning a thing.

Every time you take a chance, take a risk, speak with someone new in English, use a new vocabulary word, idiom, grammar point or phrasal verb, you should consider that a win.

Try to get to the point where you don't panic when you don't know every word that you hear in the conversation or in the paragraph that you are reading.  Can you at least get the basic idea? As Anne Merritt mentioned in the article, can you leave your dictionary or translation application in your bag and just sit with the discomfort for a moment? I challenge you to try this.


Here are a few ways to embrace the uncertainty:

  • tolerance of ambiguity and language learningBe aware that perfectionism will work against you: I have worked with a lot of students over the past eight years and the ones that tend to struggle the most are usually huge perfectionists. If you are a perfectionist, try to recognize that language learning is messy and that's ok. Be patient with yourself and focus on how far you have come rather than little details about small mistakes you are making. Read this post for more information: Learning English? The Problem with Perfectionism
  •  Set goals and measure your progress: Yes, language learning is messy and sometimes stressful, but you can make it feel more manageable if you set specific goals. You should have a goal for each lesson with your English teacher, each homework assignment, and each business presentation that you deliver in English. In addition to those goals, set goals for the year and the month. Make sure your goals are S-M-A-R-T and talk over your goals with your English teacher before you set them.
  •  Find comfort in discomfort: More important than any study strategy, tactic or book, is being able to change the way you view and experience an uncomfortable situation. Do you remember the last time you were at work and someone asked you a question in English and you didn't understand them? How did you react? Did you start to sweat? Did your heart beat faster? Did you immediately think you might lose your job because your English isn't good enough? You can start to change the way you react to these situations by observing your mind and accepting that you will encounter these situations every day but this is what will make you a better speaker.



4) You don't use a variety of learning methods


applesA lot of upper intermediate students hit an English learner's plateau where they feel that their English stops getting better.

If this is happening to you, it might be happening because you have been using the same methods over and over and the lack of variety isn't challenging you enough to move to the next level. You are bored!

If that's your case, it's time to change this! You need a blend of both controlled learning environments like private English lessons or group classes and chaotic learning environments like your weekly meeting at work or a networking event.


Here's how to create balance in your English-learning methods


variety of learning methods

Controlled learning environments:


Chaotic learning environments:

  • A monthly networking event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce or another networking organization
  • A meetup that is structured around an activity other than learning English, like your favorite hobby such as photography, hiking, basket weaving, etc.
  • Ordering a meal in a restaurant, checking in to a hotel, renting a car



5) You let fear take over

 fear statueAre you afraid to start a conversation in English with someone new at a party?

Are you afraid to ask a stranger for directions on the street?

Are you afraid to live with roommates who don't speak your native language?

Are you afraid to give a presentation in English?

These are all valid and typical fears. But you have to recognize that fear is nothing more than energy.

It is possible to set your fear aside and do what you know you need to do to improve. If you can set your fear aside, you can actually use it and re-channel it to reach your goals.

Wondering how you can do that? Keep reading...


For a few more tips on fear and learning English, check out these posts:


  • fearThe (Sometimes) Lonely Road to English Improvement: Learning English can be lonely. Why? Because if you are doing it right, then you are often out practicing your English with native English speakers, perhaps people you don't know, who don't share your culture. Read this article for three things to keep in mind to stay strong and motivated.
  • How English Learners Can Silence the "Inner Critic": Find out how the inner critic affects you as an English learner. Read about a few techniques to redefine both success and failure so that your inner critic will quiet down and you can get on the right track to improvement!



6) You want to hold on to your identity in your native language


identity changing in language learningAre you the same person when you speak your native language and English?

Well, yes, in many ways you are. You have the same name, the same address and the same passport photo, but in many ways you are someone different.

Not sure what I mean? Let me give you an example. I am a native English speaker and I have been learning Spanish for about 5 years. When I speak Spanish I am more playful and less inhibited. I actually feel like a different person. I think it's fun. It's like taking off one mask and putting on another. It's refreshing to step out of the way I normally see myself and present myself. I get to be someone different for a few hours or a day.

One of our students once told me that she is a bit of a comedian in her native language but feels that she can't be funny in the same way in English because she doesn't have the fluency. She doesn't know how to tell jokes the same way in English. So if she is not a comedian in English, then who is she?

Have you noticed that this happens to you as well when you speak English?

Instead of fighting against this shift in identity, why don't you let yourself be a different person when you speak English. For more information on how to deal with this shift in identity, check out this article on the pros and cons of a new identity as an English learner.


So are you making any of the 6 mistakes?? If you are, this is the perfect time to change the way you study English or the way that you react to the challenge of studying English. Your assignment is this: identify the mistake that you are making, write it down and write down exactly what you will do to change it. Good luck and feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions.


Thanks for reading!


Speak English with Confidence NOW





Photo credits: six: Steve Snodgrass, fear: Kevin B3 , headphones:  MJ/TR, cat: kodomut, balance beam: sherbonbon, apples: katerha,

Article: Merritt, A. (Dec 19, 2012) The Telegraph, "Learning a foreign Language: five most common mistakes.

Topics: Advice for English Students, How to Learn English

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