Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Learning Spanish

We are not perfect! As language learner, you never stop learning, improving your skills, and learning more about yourself in the process.  This is all part of what makes language learning such an amazing journey. But don’t you wish someone would point out those mistakes that you might be making? Not the obvious mistakes, such as pronunciation or your challenges with the subjunctive, but rather mistakes that are more intrinsic–those mistakes that keep you from learning not only one, but multiple languages.

From not putting in the time to not patting yourself on the back, here are the top 10 mistakes that you need to be aware of and stop making right now.

1. Believing the myths about language learning​

There are so many misconceptions about learning a foreign language. You think you are too old. Or maybe you think Spanish is too difficult. But you could never be too old to learn a language. Some of my sharpest clients have been much older. Their experience, patience and knowledge have often made language learning a very smooth journey, as long as they don’t let their doubts get in the way. And if you think Spanish is difficult, according to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), it only takes 575-600 hours to become a proficient Spanish speaker. Can you handle 575 hours? I’m sure you can!

2. Making excuses for yourself

Did you know there are 41 native speakers in the United States alone and that this country has more native speakers than Spain? There are so many reasons to learn Spanish right now. Stop making excuses for youself about how and when you’ll learn. Just do it. The time is now.

3. Not finding the time

This is the modern day dilemma: how do you find the time to do the things you love on top of doing your work, taking care of your family, going to school, etc.? This can be tough, but if you are not putting in the time, then you are not committing to it 100%. And as much as I hate to tell you this (that’s s lie, I don’t hate telling you this), you do have the time. Do you have 15 or  20 minutes daily?  Of course. You must find the time if you want to learn a language. One of the most unique things about learning a new language is that you are competing against yourself. You want to see how far can you go, how much can you learn, and how fast can you achieve this. It is not a race, but make sure you are committing. Are you committed to your journey? 

4. Holding on too tight

It might seem contradictory, but the same way you shouldn’t be undercommiting to your studies, you also shouldn’t hold on too tight. Strike the right balance between an adult learning a language and a child playing with the world around him. Stop being afraid. Fear is not your friend! Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Don’t be afraid of being a fool. Don’t be afraid of laughing at yourself. It is not so much about the destination, but about the journey. Let go of some of the rules and just enjoy it. 

5. Having too much clutter

This is one of the first things I tell my clients: your brain cannot focus with with so much clutter. Clean up the clutter. Use only two books: your regular book and a novel you are reading in class. An additional book for grammar is fine. Don’t hold on to worksheets and grammar exercises that you did two years ago. No bulky dictionaries. You can use an app for that. No vocabulary books either please. An app will suffice for that as well. Also, avoid information overload by sticking to one or two websites to read (Díafano, right? ;)). Your language instructor should be the one deciding and approving which books to use in and out of class. She can also recommend apps and websites for you to focus on.

6. Not finding the right teacher

You need a partner to help you along the way, someone invested in your journey. That means finding a professional language teacher who can get you results and build your confidence. As attractive as it might sound to “do it on your own,” language learning is one thing you do not want to do alone.

7. Not knowing how you learn

What type of learner are you? Are you more comfortable with visuals? Do you feel music really helps you learn? Or watching movies? Do you need to be on your feet and move around the room? Determining whether you are a visual, reading and writing, auditory, or kinesthetic learner can make a tremendous difference in how you approach your journey.

8. Taking a break from your studies

Seriously? Take a break, and unless you are already an advanced student, you’ll drop it all together. Taking a break is a nice way of saying “I quit.” Don’t be that person.

9. Quitting

“Oh, the places you’ll go,” said Dr. Seus. “Oh, the places you’ll go if you quit,” said No One. You never, ever quit, that’s the rule. Learning a language is an act of patience, courage, and love. Stay focused. Stay strong. Enough said.

10. Not reward yourself

Life is too short to be small! Live a little. Have a little fun. I pat myself on the back and go, “You’re good!” whenever I see improvement in my foreign language skills. I don’t wait for anyone to tell me how great I am. I tell my own self (probably too often). I keep track of my progress. Are you rewarding yourself for staying on track and making strides on this journey? If you are not, what are you waiting for? 🙂 

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Irma Cedeno

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Irma is a trained linguist, native Spanish speaker, and teacher. She is the founder and CEO of Diáfano.

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