In my experience, both as a teacher and a language learner, I’ve seen some mistakes that keep most people from ever being successful learning a foreign language. So, we’ve prepared this article to make sure you are able to identify them… and avoid making them yourself!. Sneak preview: almost everyone does number 6, and as a result, waste a LOT of time. Are you making that mistake too? Keep reading to find out.
1. Cramming word lists
Sure, learning word lists is incredibly useful… si te quieres convertir en un diccionario con patas (if you want to become a walking dictionary) But if you want to learn to speak like a native, use that energy and brainpower to learn chunks instead! —That’s what we call fixed word combinations in Spanish natives use all the time.
They will make it much easier to speak Spanish than having to string together isolated words with grammar rules. That’s why we teach them in all our Spring Spanish videos!
Remember: Saber la tabla periódica, no te hace un químico. (Learning the periodic table won’t make you a chemist). Same thing with Spanish: knowing a lot of words won’t make you fluent. Conversations (and chunks that you can say in these conversations) are the real deal.
2. Studying grammar rules by heart
If what you want to do is speak fluent Spanish, you don’t need to learn grammar, what you need is to use the same method you used learning your mother tongue: learning phrases or expressions and give them meaning through repetition and context.
If you have to think about grammar rules while speaking, you'll always be slow, translating in your head, feel clumsy,… “A better way is to absorb grammar by FIRST listening a lot to Spanish and making your brain absorb patterns of the language (word combinations that we call chunks), so you intuitively start using them correctly. Sounds complicated? It's actually an easy 4-step process called conversation based chunking; we have a video demonstrating it on our website!
Bottom line: a little grammar won’t hurt, but only learning grammar won’t get you very far —even if your high school teacher might disagree.
3. Trying to cover a lot in short time
If you want to learn Spanish for good, no intentes correr antes de aprender a gatear (don’t try to run before learning to crawl). Taking one lesson at a time is very important to really learn your stuff.
Always remember baby steps: cortos, pero firmes (short, but steady). So, starting the new year off with 5 hours daily learning even though you haven’t done anything before, will make you run out of steam quite quickly.
No es sorpresa que los gimnasios están llenos en enero, pero vacíos en febrero. (No wonder most gyms are crowded in January and empty in February).
4. Doing too little
Opposite to the previous one, if you only take one lesson a week, your progress is going to be… modest. The best thing you can do is trying to get daily exposure, even 20 minutes of your day can make the difference. So, start practicing Spanish regularly.
5. Not listening to enough Spanish
Try to consume as much content as possible in Spanish to make sure you absorb as much as possible of the language. If you don’t listen to enough Spanish, how are you planning to get rid of your acento extranjero (foreign accent)?
Also, listening to native speakers is where you can find those super important chunks (word combinations) that we talked about earlier. The more, the better! And the best thing is: you get a “feel” for Spanish. You will learn how the language is structured and how it works without even noticing!
6. Listening to incomprehensible input
Now this is the one I alluded to in the intro, since this is a mistake almost all language learners make.
If you learn a couple of chunks and suddenly you start with las grandes ligas (the big leagues of Spanish), you won’t make any progress. Listening to input that you don’t understand is not helpful even if you feel productive doing it.
If you don’t understand anything, you won’t learn anything. So, go by layers. Learned “mucho gusto“? You’ll probably understand me dio mucho gusto conocerte.
Already familiar with “Te agradezco“? Then, “Te agradezco por ayudarme con mi tarea” will be much easier to understand.
Quick heads up: This is the way we do things at the Spring Spanish academy, using quick parallel transcripts and translations to help you progress quickly and to make sure that the input is indeed comprehensible.
7. Not speaking Spanish
Same thing as listening: To improve your pronunciation and accent, go ahead and speak as much as you can with native speakers or even on your own.
You will only learn speaking Spanish, well by speaking Spanish. It’s as simple as that! You’re just a couple of conversations away from finally saying ferrocarril (train), instead of feroucarilou.
8. Have a goal in mind
If you don't know where you want to be, it's going to be hard to find a path there. So, think about: ¿por qué estoy aprendiendo español? (why am I learning Spanish?) In which situations do I see myself using my Spanish?
The answer to these questions will help you define a goal and track your progress because you will know exactly how success will look like. ¡Así que dale con furia! (So go for it! —literally: go with fury)
9. Not subscribing to Spring Spanish
Probably the worst mistake you’re making right now is missing out on our YouTube channel! We have a whole series of Spanish beginner videos where we cover a lot of very important and interesting topics in Spanish. We also publish 5 new Spanish lessons a week!
Just by subscribing and watching our video lessons, you’ll already have some daily exposure to Spanish (and you’ll avoid making mistakes). So, go ahead, subscribe and hit the bell button to get 5 weekly free Spanish lessons from me and the other Spring Spanish teachers on our channel!
We also have a free Spanish training on our website where you'll discover the method we use in our Spring Spanish Academy to teach students to speak fluent Spanish. You also get some free sample Spanish lessons there that come straight from our Academy!