By David White
With 2017 quickly approaching, now is a great time to begin thinking about the patterns and tasks that you would like to start or stop in the coming months. If you are a language learner, you may be setting goals for yourself around vocabulary, fluency, or some other area of proficiency. But now might also be the ideal time to begin thinking about the things you want to stop doing when it comes to learning another language.
Like almost all types of learning, language learning involves a great deal of trial and error before you master the subject. Unfortunately, you may pick up bad habits along the way that can slow the learning process or make it difficult for native speakers to understand you. (Note that many of these habits are unconscious and not unique to language learners.) If you are not sure whether you have picked up any of these bad habits, here are a few examples:
1. Relying on translation software
There have likely been times where you struggled to translate a phrase into English and opened a translation program for assistance. These types of programs are perhaps the easiest and fastest way to translate a word or sentence into a second language, but that does not mean that they are always correct.
Translation software has improved over the years, but it can still produce highly inaccurate results. However advanced these programs have become, there are a number of concepts and words that do not directly translate between two languages. Instead of turning to translation software, consider asking a native speaker for help.
2. Modeling speaking and writing patterns on social media
The internet has become a true asset to any student who is attempting to learn a new subject. Many lesson plans now feature online content, and some full classes are even taught remotely. But it is very possible that social media is making your bad habits worse.
Social media can be a great way to expand your vocabulary and to strengthen your language skills, particularly as it is written, rather than spoken. Nevertheless, many social media participants use online shorthand or ignore certain grammar rules, which can make your own speaking and writing seem sloppy if you have modeled your English on what you have seen online. Take care when drawing inspiration from online examples, and choose reputable accounts.
3. Employing slang or regionally specific language in all instances
Similar to what you might see online, spoken English—particularly conversational English—may include slang or regionally specific language. In a general sense, it is wise to learn these words and to understand what they mean, because they will appear in the conversations you have with others. Having said that, it is important to avoid using them in formal environments.
Such terms can be confusing when used in the wrong setting. More importantly, slang and regionally specific words fall in and out of fashion, and they can quickly become outdated. This means that you could use terms or phrases that are ultimately confusing to native speakers.
4. Using words without understanding their meaning
A portion of the bad habits that language learners accumulate come from the native speakers with whom they interact. In light of this information, you might be learning new words and inferring their meaning from the context of a spoken sentence. For example, people often use the word “ironic” when what they really mean is “coincidental.”
If you are the type of learner who benefits from immersion and active participation, be sure to note down any words that you hear, especially when you are unsure of their meaning. Look them up at a later time so that you can use them correctly in a sentence.
David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world's largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.