By Levi Flint
The following are the 3 top mistakes that I have made when learning Spanish, Portuguese, and French in the past years of my life. Hopefully by reading this you can avoid the pain, suffering, regret, and doubt that I have had the misfortune of experiencing.
1) I Often Waited Until I was “Good Enough” to Speak, Before Having My First Conversation.
This is an enormously common problem for people who study a foreign language outside of the country where it is spoken. It is astonishing that more teachers aren’t working to fix this problem and take some sort of leadership. Blogger and author, Benny Lewis is really the only ‘authority’ that I’ve seen who has said anything on this matter. The reasons behind this are silly and in large part based on assumptions, old beliefs, and some applied linguistic studies that speak of a necessary “silent period” that one must allow all language learners to go through.
For me, in my opinion, this is really just a personality thing. If the learner is extroverted, then he typically wants to speak immediately and is excited to do so. If he is an introvert, then perhaps no. Instead, he prefers to collect his thoughts, analyze, and maybe study a good deal before he begins to speak. Despite this, however, everyone has some sort of anxiety when first speaking a new language. The idea is to get over this fear as quickly as possible so that you can practice and gain more and more exposure to real language over time.
Unfortunately for me I did NOT do this with Spanish, but I did with Portuguese and I now am also doing this with French. As a result I developed a comfort level for Portuguese at a much faster rate than I ever did with Spanish and to this day and I speak Portuguese well enough to communicate effectively with native speakers.
Even though I am now a fluent Spanish speaker, I still catch myself feeling anxious to speak freely when around strangers or in large groups. As a result native speakers are often surprised when they get to know me better and often say “Wow, your Spanish sounds so natural. Especially for a gringo!” So, to reiterate, breaking through this barrier early on is super important. Don’t be like me and screw it up! Don’t be afraid and start attempting to communicate as early as you can. It pays off in the long run.
2) I Often Times Studied Too Many Translation Apps and Textbook Activities Instead of More Immersion Focused Ones.
From my experience apps like Duolingo, Memrise, and also most typical face-to-face classroom translation type of activities and flashcards are fine to use when learning a new language. Today, in many cases, it has become popular for teachers and applied linguists oppose translation activities when learning a new language. I totally understand this, but I don’t agree with it for the following reason: using our first or second language as a crutch to help us gain vocabulary and understanding of a new language is one of our biggest advantages that we have as adolescent or adult learners. Use it as a tool, but never fall in love with any one method or form of practice. At times in the past I would spend way too much time focusing on this and not enough with more immersion focused activities. You must find immersion practice via movies, video series, reading, or speaking as much as possible. Interestingly the brain can learn a ton of language consciously, but only to a certain degree. The subconscious picks up more language than you can imagine in immersion practice sessions such as with conversation, writing, and listening comprehension.
3) I Often Tried to Study and Practice Too Much. Moreover, I Often Stressed Out About It When I Didn’t Do Enough or If I Skipped a Day.
You needn’t over study. However, you must make it a habit to study everyday. Consistency is when you really see improvement. At Personal Fluency Coach I try to really push the concept I use with both exercise and language learning by setting “daily minimums” and following through with them consistently, on a daily / weekly / monthly basis. A “daily minimum” is something that appears upon very glance as easy and doable each day within your day-to-day schedule. You’ll find that these little minimums add up each day, bit by bit, and quickly turn into hours upon hours of productivity and growth as months pass by.
For example, right now I am learning French.
This is my daily / monthly “minimum” plan for this month, January 2015. To some this may look like a lot, but one could easily just incorporate the morning part into their daily routines and see huge improvement over time.
Duolingo: min 30 xp daily
Memrise: 10 words daily
Pimsleur II Daily (during my 30 minute morning workout)
Online Convo Lesson w/ Personal Fluency Coach: (2) 30 min lesson per week
Afternoon / Evenings:
French in Action: Review chapters 1-4 in week 1
and then 2 chapters per wk for remaining three weeks
Sequence for each chapter:
-Audio Text Work Up (while walking / cooking / working out)
-Audio textbook activities
FSI Pronunciation Cap 5, 6, 7 (by the end of the month)
Saturday Class at French Language School (12-3pm) each week
Levi Flint is the creator and head “fluency coach” at PersonalFluencyCoach.com. Levi holds a Master’s degree in teaching Spanish as a second language. He teaches English and Spanish as a second language online both privately and for several colleges. Furthermore, he also does consulting on self-study language learning for students interested in studying English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French on their own, in an online setting. Currently based out of Guadalajara, Mexico, Levi plans on being in Quebec City over the summer and then back in Latin America thereafter.
Contact him at PersonalFluencyCoach@gmail.com