There are a lot of blogs out there instructing you on how to best learn, speak and understand a language. I’m here to tell you that a lot of these blogs are wrong!
Below are a few language learning myths that are floating around out there. For each one, I explain why these tips or simply myths that are not conducive to language fluency.
“Focus on literal translation.”
We often think that in order to learn something completely, we have to focus on 100% accuracy. This makes sense in subjects like math where one number off can mean the difference between right and wrong. This isn’t true in language.
Literal translations are often jagged and don’t translate well. Fluency is about understanding what the context of the words mean, not their literal translation.
“Go at your own pace.”
It’s often said that learning is something we shouldn’t force on ourselves — that we should go at our own pace for our own benefit. Again, this doesn’t apply to learning languages.
When you go at your own pace, you run the risk of losing the language and eventually forgetting it entirely. You HAVE to be able to commit to daily learning time and immersive language methods.
“Language technicality is the most important part.”
In line with literal translations, language technicality isn’t nearly as important as language fluency. While it’s good to know the technical aspects of a language, they don’t mean much if you can’t converse fluidly. Many language students can rattle off what Spanish words mean and great French phrases, but this is about rote memorization — not actual conversational understanding.
“Stick to long-term goals.”
I often hear people say “I plan to learn Russian by the end of the year!” or some other variant with a different language. This isn’t how learning a language works. It’s important that you try your best, but it’s not conducive to education to stick to rigid goals.
Work every day and check where your fluency is at in regular intervals. Sometimes it takes longer than a year. And even if you FEEL fluent at the end of a year, that doesn’t mean you need to stop learning. Languages can be lost if you don’t use them: “Use it or lose it!”
“Focus on your weak spots.”
This tip may be great in other areas of learning, but it does not make sense in the context of linguistics. If you want to REALLY learn a language, you can’t treat it like you’re trying to get a good grade on an exam. If you focus too heavily on your weaker areas, you run the risk of ignoring other areas, leading to a collapse in fluency.
“You have to live and breathe the language!”
Is immersion good for learning languages? Of course. Do you have to become obsessed and run yourself ragged in order to become fluent? No.
Just like any other hobby, going overboard means you’re more likely to give up. You have to find the right balance between committing to daily memorization and exercises while also not pushing so yourself to the limit. Learning a language fast also usually means you have a good ability for memorization, NOT for actual fluency.
These are only a few of the tips I’ve found that I don’t agree with. Are there any language learning tips that you’ve found which are totally bogus?