What NOT to Do in order to have a smooth language learning process

Updated January 11, 2021

Language learning can be tough. So far, we have given you different advice on how to learn different languages efficiently, such as Spanish, English, and Chinese. Today, let’s flip it a little bit to make it fun. We will tell you 10 things NOT to do when you are learning any languages. 

In Swap Language, we work with thousands of language learners from all around the world. There are some common mistakes we see even the most dedicated language learners make. It is not about working hard but learning smart.

Here go 10 common mistakes you should AVOID doing to boost up your language-learning experience. 

What Are 10 Common Mistakes that Language Learning implies?

#1 Learning Mistake: Don’t just memorize random new words 


We have all been there, done that: every time you see/hear new words from your language class, TV, or a friend, you quickly write them down. You then accumulate a bunch of random new words over time, but they are either too irrelevant or overwhelming. 

Instead, you should target more practical, useful, and relevant vocabulary for everyday life, for example, words related to your studies, job, hobbies, and family. It can also be simple ones like food, colors, and numbers.

Especially if you are a beginner, it serves you better to build a foundation of vocabulary that you can already start using in daily conversations. 

#2 Learning Mistake: Don’t just focus on one area of the language and neglect the others 

The #2 thing NOT to do is focusing too much on one area while forgetting the others. We have seen learners who are so good at reading and writing, but still, they cannot hold a simple conversation in their target language or vice versa.

common mistakes - neglect

Gaining fluency in a language requires effort in all areas — speaking, listening, writing, and reading. You will need to take care of all areas if you plan to take a language proficiency test as well. 

Therefore, while you can put more effort in the area that fits your goals, we suggest that you also use other methods of learning. For example, if you have mainly been doing English reading and grammar exercises, you can also start practicing with an English native speaker.*

Here are different fun ways to learn English efficiently, too. Remember, all areas are integral parts of learning that will strengthen one another.

*You can find a language partner on Swap Language for free!

#3 Learning Mistake: Don’t work against your learning strengths

common mistakes - against your strengths

Have you been studying a foreign language for some years but still stuck at baby level? Maybe you have been learning it the wrong way! Another common mistake we have seen is when language learners don’t know their strengths and weaknesses. So they may be using methods that work against their strengths the whole time. 

We are all different people who have different styles, strengths, and goals. So when it comes to learning a new language, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Identify your learning style and work WITH it, not against it.

For example, if you are a visual learner, in which images, graphs, and charts stimulate your brain more in processing information, then use them to help your learning. 

#4 Learning Mistake: Don’t wait until you feel ready to speak

common mistakes - against your strengths

“I don’t know enough vocabulary. I don’t feel ready to speak yet” is another strange mindset that many language learners have. Countering many of your beliefs, you will never be completely ready. You actually gain vocabulary THROUGH having conversations in the language you are learning, not just through memorizing some vocabulary lists. 

One mistake I made when I first started learning Danish was that I continued to speak in English with my Danish friends. I thought I would wait until I know more words or figure out the crazy (*cough cough*) Danish pronunciation to start speaking. 

But the truth is, I was just too shy and used that as an excuse. After a while, even when I was ready, I had become so used to speaking in English with other Danes that it took 3x times the effort to switch to Danish. Fortunately, as I speak more and more, it comes easier and easier. 

In short, it is never too late, but it is never too early either. Start speaking already! 

#5 Learning Mistake: Don’t just focus on grammar of the language


If you have learned a second language in a formal school setting — like millions other language learners around the world — chances are that your curriculum has/ had a heavy focus on grammar.

While grammar is essential, it is more important for advanced learners. In other words, don’t worry too much about getting perfect grammar if you are a beginner. Don’t let grammar hinder you from expressing yourself in speaking or writing.  


Related to tip #2, grammar is only one part of the integrated learning process. Instead of just studying all the grammar rules (and exceptions!) with a textbook, it is a much more effective approach if you can APPLY them in your conversations.

Whether you are watching TV shows, talking with a native speaker, or reading a novel in that language, you are naturally developing your overall communication skills, which includes grammar. 

#6 Learning Mistake: Don’t rely on Google translate

Welcome to the era of Google! We google-search almost everything, we use Google Maps for directions, and we use Google Translate for foreign language text. Google has become a part of our everyday lives. 

common mistakes - google translate

While Google Translate is a useful tool, and it is convenient in some situations like traveling, it is not suitable for language learning. We all know the hilarious things Google Translate does sometimes so it is not all that reliable.

Getting confusing or inaccurate results will only be counterproductive to your learning. We recommend using a credible dictionary when you are looking words up. 

#7 Learning Mistake: Don’t just direct translate

Speaking of translation, the #7 thing NOT to do when learning any language is direct-translating everything. Translating is a natural part of language learning that helps us to understand the text. However, as we all know, every language has its own ways of expressing ideas, concepts, and syntax. Therefore, some meanings are lost in translation when you attempt to translate them to your native language. 

Instead, you should learn words and expressions in a foreign language in its original, natural way. Pay attention to how the same ideas between your native language and the foreign language can be expressed differently, and then adjust to the usage or pattern changes. 

common mistakes - dictionary

Bonus tip:
Use a dictionary in the foreign language you are learning, instead of a bilingual dictionary that just translates words directly into your native language. That way you will learn how a word is described and how it can be used in different contexts in its original language.

#8 Learning Mistake: Don’t forget about culture

Language and culture are inseparable twins. Language IS part of Culture. Therefore, understanding the culture behind will help you learn the language (and its usage) a lot. 


For example, Chinese people value their group memberships more than individual identities. They often see themselves as a part of a family, a group, or a collective community. Therefore, they often use the pronoun “we” instead of “I” in Chinese, which reflects the collective culture. 

Nichlas, the co-founder of Swap Language, has shared how he had learned Spanish for 5 years, but yet when he first moved to Spain, he was shocked that he couldn’t really communicate with locals. Why? Because he found out that he was only learning “textbook Spanish” in class, and this is not how native speakers talk in real life. He did not learn the cultural part at all! 

(Starting at 00:10) Nichlas sharing Swap Language’s founding story

This experience inspired him to co-found Swap Language. In Swap Language, we aim to help you break down language and cultural barriers. You will get to learn a language with a native speaker AND gain insight into the culture as well.

#9 Learning Mistake: Don’t expect fast results

Ever seen any articles that said “Master __ language in __ days”? Sorry, buddy, but that is too good to be true. As much as we want everyone to be fluent in 5 languages in 6 months, language learning is a long process that simply takes time. 

expect fast results

In Swap Language, we believe that setting realistic goals is the first step to success in learning any language. When you are able to identify your goals according to your available time, resources, and abilities, you are less likely going to expect fast results (*unrealistic*).

It is entirely understandable to want improvement and results, but don’t forget that progress is also fun. From time to time, when you look back, you will realize how far you have come. As Kathryn Larsen shared in her inspiring story in learning Danish:

“People don’t realize that language-learning is not linear but an exponential curve! There is a point where your brain is just passively sucking up more vocabulary. It’s REALLY hard to get that momentum when you learn everything from scratch in the beginning…but it will get easier and easier.”

Kathryn Larson
learn Danish with arts

#10 Learning Mistake: Don’t forget consistency is a key

Last but not least, the #10 common mistake to avoid is to lack consistency when learning a new language. Have you experienced the following?

In the beginning, you are excited. You buy books, you download language apps, you take lessons, and you even find a SWL language partner to practice with. And then, over time, your enthusiasm diminishes, or you get busy that your learning effort becomes inconsistent. 


Consistency is the key to becoming fluent in any language. Our brains need continuous exposure to soak it up, to process it, and to internalize it. Therefore, remember that: 

Learning 7 hours once a week ≠ learn 1 hour every day.
Guess which one is more effective? The Latter!

Good news for learners of Danish and Spanish learners!

They should have no more excuses. Join the weekly live lessons for free and take the opportunity of learning from native speakers. Cultural insights are also included.

Our previous articles have shared some tips on how to learn Spanish, English, Danish, or Chinese effectively while keeping your enthusiasm up! (Stay tuned for more learning tips on different languages to come)