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Seven common mistakes when learning English ❌

Seven common mistakes to avoid when learning English and the best English-learning method to start making progress!

Have you spent years studying English without making much progress? Are you constantly looking for the best method to learn English, which will allow you to improve quickly?

Almost every English-learning method makes the same promise, that "you will learn English quickly and for free, without effort, easily, like children do!". These are promises they just can't keep. Don't forget that fake promises work only on those who listen to them, something any politician knows all too well.

Now, let's cut to the chase, in this article we will dismantle the bad English-learning methods so you don't waste your time anymore.

Learning in an unorganized way

Do you ever learn random vocabulary and grammar? By learning cat one day and hypercholesterolemia the other, you're not following a logical pattern. Learning the difference between who and whom even though you still haven't mastered the Present Perfect will not be of much use to you, either.

Have you focused too much on reading without knowing enough about pronunciation? Learning the language just by reading, without speaking, is a recipe for disaster. Because English is a living language you must immerse yourself in its sounds! Focusing on the spoken language is not only relevant, it can even be liberating.

Every good English-learning method has to have a structure that you can follow in order to reach your goals quickly. There is a natural order which we should respect. Consider how a child acquires fluency in her own native tongue. She first learns the spoken sounds. After that, she will focus on the written structure. We first learn the spoken language, and only then focus on the written one. When it comes to vocabulary, we need to prioritize the most commonly used English words and then, the rarer vocabulary that we don't necessarily use on a daily basis. As for grammar, you should assimilate the basic structures first and only then the more advanced ones.

Learning everything through text

Text, text, and more text! At school, you might have tried to learn by stuffing your mind full of rules and language materials that prove to be useless for communicating. If that sounds familiar, don't repeat the same mistake when learning English on your own.

If you only imagine how words are pronounced instead of actually knowing it, you risk ending up with an incomprehensible accent in English. And if you develop bad pronunciation habits from the get-go, you'll have a much harder time getting rid of them later.

This point is related to the previous one. The English language is not phonetic, words are not pronounced the way they're written. That's the reason why you shouldn't focus too much on the written version.

Okay, leave the text aside for a moment. Add audio into your studies! With the Internet, it's extremely easy to find the correct pronunciation of words and you can even choose if you prefer the American or the British standard. Here are some useful resources:

On these websites, you have access to phonetic transcriptions, which will allow you to learn exactly how words are pronounced. The most popular system, the one we use on Click & Speak and on this blog, is the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). If you still can't read it or need some help, you can check out our interactive infographic!

The way to learn pronunciation correctly is very simple. When you learn a new sentence, think of it like music. Pay attention to the intonation, the rhythm, the stressed parts, and the articulation. Do not neglect these aspects because, by working on the sounds in English, you're also working on your own accent. This is the only way to learn to speak clearly, and eventually even acquire a near-native accent.

Practicing English only once per day

Human memory is not perfect, it deteriorates. Our brains are not designed to remember everything, they're designed to forget what seems unimportant to them. That explains why we can sometimes find it hard to remember something we learned just a few hours, minutes or even seconds ago!

How can you avoid forgetting? By reviewing new information regularly, we reinforce it. If we keep seeing a word over and over again, we're going to remember it better than if we see it a single time. That's why it's much better to practice English a few times a day, as opposed to only once. By having several study-sessions each day, the information remains in our brain.

Maybe you're wondering - "But spending one hour a day learning vocabulary is better than not doing anything, right?" Sure, but that's not an effective English-learning method. Whereas, if you study all day with regulated intervals between sessions or a spaced repetition system, you will no longer waste your time having to relearn vocabulary, simply because you waited too long to review it.

I insist on the importance of repetition and revision. Even a few minutes a day are better than nothing! Review vocabulary in the metro, on the bus, even in the bathroom ... Dedicate bits of time throughout the day. That will be more effective and permanent.

Getting bored

Boredom is the enemy of concentration. It's hard to learn things without concentrating. If you feel bored when you study English, you can be sure that your method is not well-adapted and will not bring you the desired results.

Most of the time, particularly at school, courses focus mostly on grammar - Past perfect, Present Perfect Continuous, Future Perfect ... these topics are not exactly thrilling, are they? When people try to learn via self-study methods, it can be really challenging to find content that is suitable, adapted to their current level.

How do you avoid boredom and keep language learning fun?

Thankfully, English is all around us! Indulge one of your passions in English. There are a lot of available resources and that will allow you to create a pleasant experience when studying. Tailor your search to your interests. In order to improve your reading comprehension, choose Internet articles or books in English that you're curious about. As for your listening comprehension, movies, TV series, and podcasts are rich in vocabulary and will allow you to practice everyday English.

Do what you like to do, but do it in English.

Learning passively

Even though I just said that watching movies or TV shows is a good way to improve your English, you absolutely shouldn't say to yourself - "Okay, I spent 3 hours watching Netflix, that's enough to improve my English". No, that's way too passive. If you do that on its own, it will not bring you effective results, because you won't be doing anything other than listening to information, which often goes by too quickly. You're not directly involved in the process of learning, which explains why you end up not remembering much.

In order to avoid this, focus on more active ways of learning. Engage yourself in the learning process through activities such as exploring, analyzing, communicating, creating, thinking or using the new information.

While movies, podcasts, and TV series are good for improving listening comprehension, they're not enough by themselves if you want to speak English fluently. In order to learn to speak English in real life, you have to learn to take specific actions, namely writing, speaking, thinking. In short, you need to prepare yourself for real-life scenarios which require the use of English. Do not hesitate to fully engage your brain in the learning process!

Learning words without context

Do you learn individual words without context? Do you ever wonder why you can't seem to use them in daily communication? Do you ever try to memorize book and to run one after the other? You're actually wasting your time.

Memory works powerfully through associations. If you study words out of context, meaning in a way that makes it impossible to create links between them, that's ineffective for your memory and makes learning English even harder. The worst thing you could do is to study them in alphabetical order... you'll end up confusing everything!

On the other hand, learning words which are semantically related plays an important role in a good English-learning method.

Learn words which go together, that you can use together, combined... and they will reappear together, ready to serve you, whenever you need them. For example, learn the words rabbit, hunter, rifle at the same time with the sentence The hunter aimed his rifle at the rabbit. Your English-learning method should teach you vocabulary in context.

Not having any motivation

If you strive to learn fifty words every day and are torturing yourself with grammar which isn't even relevant at your level, take a step back to think about your way of learning English. Are you sure you're not making yourself dislike English? Be careful, because that will most likely destroy your motivation.

As a polyglot myself, I know what the disastrous effect of a lack of motivation can be. This, alongside with boredom, is concentration's other worst enemy.

Learning a language works much better when it's fun! In that case, it's a marvelous adventure which opens new doors and gives you new opportunities. Without motivation, you're not going to remember what you're studying, and you will never want to start again. So, you're wasting your time.

On the other hand, if you like the "extreme" method we just mentioned, very well! Everyone is different. There are undoubtedly going to be some things which work for you but not for others.

For those of you who are sinking deeper and deeper into a quicksand of demotivation, don't panic! Try to change or adapt your method and remember the reason why you decided to learn English in the first place. Don't ever forget what your ambitions are and do not abandon your studies. You've already come so far! It would be a shame to stop improving now.


In short, what are the bad ways to learn English?

If you're...

  1. Learning in an unorganized way
  2. Learning only through text
  3. Practicing English only once per day
  4. Feeling bored when studying
  5. Learning passively
  6. Studying words without context
  7. Not feeling motivated

... then you certainly won't have quick and effective results.

Thankfully, the solutions to these problems were presented to you in this article! :) These methods are not revolutionary, you just need to work smart and be patient. There are certainly other ones on the Internet, like the famous method of learning English in your sleep, but I'll leave the topic of English-learning scams for another blog post!

Working pays off, so, go get going! :)

See also

  • Click & Speak. One exciting and effective way to improve your English is only a click away!
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Ellie Wu


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Dimitar Dimitrov


Last modified: March 15, 2021, 9:45 am