Top 5 Mistakes Made By English Learners (and it’s not what you think!)

So…you want to speak English fluently?

If you are reading this article right now, chances are you are an English student! Many people who are learning English have taken classes in school, or even private lessons as an adult,  for many years. Today, many European multi-national companies require their employees to be proficient in business English. English teachers often work with large companies teaching professionals how to handle meetings, teleconferencing, and interviews. But most students in this situation take lessons each week for a long period of time, but are never able to become fluent, and actually improve very little over time. The question is: why?

Many people think they are too old to learn a language, or that they “just aren’t good” at language acqusition. But that is simply not true! The truth is, EVERYONE is capable of becoming fluent in another language, but language teaching has been done wrong for many years! Recent studies show that language acquisition happens when experience and repetition come together. And this does NOT happen when we are reading silently, memorizing lists of words, or being put on the spot to speak perfectly in class!

Well, if you are like most English learners, you have been learning English the old-fashioned way. If you are really ready to improve your English skills a lot more quickly, STOP making these typical mistakes:

  1. Not listening enough. Listening is the true basis for language acqusition. Infants spend the first two years of their life doing nothing but listening to the people around them–every single day! They don’t understand the words and they cannot repeat them without many months of practice. We should be the same: listen to English every single day, and listen without expectation! This means, don’t worry about understanding everything you hear. Because even when we don’t understand every word, only listening allows you to learn: vowel sounds, general pronunciation, intonation, syllable stress, adjective order, sentence structure, correct grammar and word stress. Listening to music, interviews, documentaries, or the radio every day will automatically increase your “ear” for English!

  2. Watching English films with the wrong subtitles. Movies can be one of the most effective ways to improve your English! In films we can watch realistic situations with native speakers. Watching movies is a fun way to pick up new expressions and learn about anglosaxon culture. BUT…when you watch a movie in English, you must also put the subtitles IN ENGLISH! I know, I know– many people are afraid they will not be able to “understand” the movie if they cannot read subtitles in their native language. But if you can hear the words in English, and also see the words in English, this is a very effective and painless way to improve your fluency! Your brain does all the work for you, I promise!

  3. Believing that learning must be painful. In the “old school” way of language teaching, learning is like torture. Taking exams, memorizing vocabulary, or reading and writing long pieces of text that are difficult to understand. The truth is, students learn better and faster when they  advance at their own rhythm. We can learn languages using music, art, films, theater, or just having a drink with friends. So give yourself a break– you don’t have to suffer to learn something well!

  4. Focusing on grammar. When you are learning to speak a language, it is important that you focus first on listening, and then on repeating and speaking. When students are forced to memorize grammar rules, and then apply them as they speak, this is a very unnatural–in fact almost impossible– way to think. Your brain cannot remember vocabulary and grammar in this way. Your brain is made to be expressive and creative with language. Only through listening to correct English every day can your brain automatically use correct grammar.

  5. Not willing to make mistakes. Many students feel pressure to speak without mistakes when they are in a classroom. They feel like they are jeopardizing their credibility or that they will sound dumb if they make a mistake. But in real life, people make mistakes all the time!  Does it bother you if someone makes a mistake in your native language? Probably not! We cannot learn without making mistakes, so if you are not taking risks when you practice English, you are preventing yourself from improving.

Changing old habits can be difficult, especially as we get older. What do you think about this advice? Have you been making these same mistakes? What are your favourite methods to learn a language? At Speak English Center we would love to hear from you in the comments box! 



April is an e-marketing specialist, English instructor and freelance writer living in Grenoble, France.
  1. Joan Stafford Reply

    I agree that listening is very important but there are some students who don’t hear the grammatical contractions in spoken English, espercially when this verb form isn’t used in L1. ( the verb ‘to be’ in Arabic) and unless it is pointed out they will never produce it.

    • admin Reply

      Absolutely Joan. We do have to point it out and watching television in no way should replace a classroom setting. But it should be used to re-inforce the things students learn in textbooks and classrooms.

      btw: I speak Arabic and never noticed there wasn’t an equivalent to the verb “to be”. The same way I never noticed there were irregular verbs in English until I started teaching English. Just goes to show you that learning grammatical constructions is not the only way to learn a language. 🙂

  2. Susan Brodar Reply

    I not only use songs in classes, but teach younger children by putting sentence ‘chunks’ to tunes so they learn them really easily! Music is very powerful!

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