4 Common Mistakes in Learning English (and How to Fix Them)

Nov 4, 2015 | English Confidence and Fluency, How To Develop Skills

Stuck. Frozen. Lost. Nervous. Shy.

Do any of those words describe how you still feel in English, even after studying and practicing for years?

It’s possible you are making some common mistakes in English learning and these mistakes are making it MUCH more difficult for you to make progress.

Let’s fix that today!

I want to share 4 common mistakes that language learners make so you can avoid them or stop making them. I will explain why they are mistakes and how you can fix them.

Common Mistake 1: Never Speaking English

This one can be difficult. There are so many reasons not to speak English…

  • You don’t live in an English-speaking country
  • You don’t use English in your work
  • You don’t know any English speakers
  • You don’t have time for English classes
  • There are too many people in your English class so you don’t get time to speak
  • You feel really shy/nervous/scared to speak English
  • You want to wait until you get really, really good before you speak English

Do any of those sound familiar? Yes, there are so many reasons (excuses) but I want to tell you 2 things:

  1. It is STILL possible to speak English in your situation
  2. You MUST speak English to improve your speaking

That is the truth. And you can fix this.

First, let’s identify your opportunities. No matter where you live, where you study or how you feel, it is possible to find opportunities to speak English either in your community or online.

And if you find speaking English difficult because you are shy, I have good news. It’s still possible. Really, it is.
More importantly, it’s possible to become confident even if you are a shy person. The KEY is to start practicing with someone who makes you feel comfortable when you speak.


Solutions for Speaking Practice

If you are not sure how to practice speaking, here are some great ideas to start with

  • Join me for one of my Fluency School courses – designed exactly to give you speaking practice with support and feedback
  • Find a much smaller group or conversation class at a local language school
  • Create a conversation club with other friends or colleagues who speak English
  • Work with a private teacher or take one-on-one classes
  • Find a language exchange partner in your community or online
  • Attend a local group/club of English language speakers (we are EVERYWHERE! Trust me!) – check a local library or university

Common Mistake 2: Thinking You Don’t Have Time

There are two possibilities here:

  1. Your life is REALLY busy, so you feel you have no time (but is that true?)
  2. You attend a class 1 time per week

In both of these situations, the problem is time but for different reasons.

The good news is both problems are solved by the same solution!

Do you have 10 minutes a day when you listen to a radio program? Do you have time to make grocery lists and to-do lists? Do you sometimes watch videos on the Internet? Do you talk to yourself (out loud or in your mind) during the day?

You can do each of these things in English.

The reality is you must do a little bit of English every day to continue growing your vocabulary, grammar and language skills. Live part of your daily life in English. Start small with just a little bit every day. Start with just 5 minutes a day. You’ll be surprised at how much progress you can make.


Solutions for Finding Time for English

Do you create to-do lists, grocery lists, or take notes in your normal daily life? Do you use a computer or smartphone for some of these tasks?

Start doing them in English! (Check out my favorite online to-do list maker: Any.Do)

Is this really going to help your English?

Yes. These little daily tasks will reinforce everyday English words and phrases that we use. And, the more you use it for your daily life, the more your vocabulary will grow.

Here are some common tasks you can do every day that don’t take much time:

  • Write your daily tasks and reminders in English
  • Read/listen to the news in English
  • Make your grocery list in English
  • Listen to a favorite podcast in English on the way to work
  • Talk to yourself out loud while cooking or driving

Common Mistake 3: Focusing Only on Grammar

After 20 years of teaching English (+ 4 years of learning French + 2 years of learning German + 3 years of learning Russian …), I have A LOT of grammar and vocabulary books. Do you?

  • Have you ever thought, if I do more grammar activities, I will really understand the language and then I will be able to speak it?
  • Do you ask your English teacher for more grammar activities so you can become better at the language?
  • Do you memorize lists of verbs and lists of phrasal verbs and lists of idioms and lists of vocabulary words?


What if I told you these will not help you grow your speaking and writing skills to an advanced level?

When you reach an intermediate level, you MUST change your methods of learning. It is best if you do this from the beginning of your learning but you can always start now. To truly understand AND use the language, you need to read and hear the language as it is used in real life. And then you must practice. Yes, that means speaking.

Instead, learn with full sentences, not just vocabulary lists and grammar rules. Learn in context. Read and listen to REAL language – the REAL English we use today. Remember our solution to Mistake 2? A little English every day is much better than a lot of English only sometimes.

Try to listen or to read something in English every day.


Solutions for New Ways to Practice English

Okay, you only have a little time each day but you want to start a daily habit in English – what should you do?

Here are some great ideas:

These are probably things you probably already do in your daily life. Try to do them in English instead.

Common Mistake 4: No Plan for Fluency

Do you want to become fluent in English? If so – that is great! But, I have some questions:

  • What is fluency? What does it sound like?
  • Does fluency feel far away? And how will you know when you reach fluency?

Many language professionals have written about fluency and they often compare fluency to a mountain. If fluency is a mountain, you have two options:

  1. Stand at the bottom, look up and think, “Wow – I would really like to get to the top.”
  2. Stop looking up. Start making plans. Get your equipment. Train and practice. Take a step. And another. And another. You do this every day. Now you are climbing. Sometimes when you are climbing, you can’t see the top but you know it is there and you are moving closer.

The same is true with language. The first option is a wish, a hope, a dream. The second is to make a plan + take action. Which one do you think will be successful?

Now I have two more questions for you:

  1. What do you want to DO with English?
  2. And how will you start to accomplish it?

A plan (or goal) + action (daily habit) = accomplishment

The more you know about WHAT you want to do in English, the easier it is to take the right steps to accomplish what you need. Do you know what you want in English?


Solutions for Creating a Fluency Plan

Below is an example action plan (or goal) with daily steps that can be taken to be successful. These action plans can change as much as you need as you grow in the language.

Description: You are a financial professional in your company. Sometimes you must present your company’s financial situation or discuss financial projections with your international partners and you must do this in English. You always feel nervous and would like to improve your English.

Action plan:

  • Learn vocabulary for finances, accounting, and economics
  • Learn vocabulary for explaining financial charts, graphs, budgets and annual reports
  • Learn to express facts and opinions in English
  • Learn to talk about risks and risk management
  • Learn to estimate or make predictions in English

Daily Steps:

  • Listen to financial reports on your way to work in the morning
  • During lunch spend 5-10 minutes reading articles on finance
  • Take notes in English during these activities
  • At home, practice describing company charts, graphs, and budgets in English
  • On your way home from work, describe your own company’s financial outlook to yourself – you can do this by talking out loud, thinking to yourself or writing in a notebook (if you use public transportation)

Note: In this example, you don’t need to do all the daily tasks every day – just choose 1 task for each day. The more you do it, the easier it will become and the faster you will be when you do these in English. Then you can add more tasks.

Please share your experiences with English and fluency.

Read the questions and then leave your comments below.

  1. What is your number 1 recommendation for improving your English? If your friend asks you, “How should I improve my English,” what would you say? Share your recommendation in the comments. You might give someone else the solution they need.
  2. Are there any mistakes you’re making in your English now? What changes can you make to stop them?
  3. What is your greatest success in English? And how did you achieve that success?

Thanks for joining me and have a wonderful week! ~ Annemarie

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