The NOT To Do List for Successful Language Learners


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10 things NOT to do if you want to reach fluency in a foreign language as quickly, efficiently, and enjoyably as possible.

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  • John,
    I agree with all you recommendations, except one: No amount of shadowboxing will ever make you a fighter. I believe that using shadowing of prerecorded emotional lessons allow learners to start speaking before they have learned the language and in this way due to Reverse Language Resonance a learner will acquire language skills and will be able to communicate freely.
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The NOT To Do List for Successful Language Learners

  1. 1. The Not To Do List by John Fotheringham For Successful Language Learners
  2. 2. Do NOT...1 … “study" a language, “acquire” it. Spending all your time consciously memorizing grammar rules, translating to and from one’s native language, and cramming vocabulary lists will not lead you to fluency in a language. Acquisition happens automatically if you get enough input (listening and reading) and output (speaking and writing).
  3. 3. Do NOT...2 ...spend time on difficult, boring materials. Motivation is one of the greatest keys to success in foreign language learning, and motivation’s favorite fuel is interest. There is a wealth of free language content available today; you need simply look for it.
  4. 4. Do NOT...3 in long, infrequent sessions. Behind motivation, consistency is the most important factor in language learning. It is far better to lay down one brick each day than trying to build the entire wall in one day.
  5. 5. Do NOT...4 …wait until you feel “ready” to start communicating with native speakers. To get better at speaking, you have to speak, so don’t let fear of not understanding or being misunderstood keep you from getting the practice you need to progress. No amount of shadowboxing will ever make you a fighter.
  6. 6. Do NOT...5 ...memorize vocabulary out of context. To have any chance of retaining and actually usingnew words, they must be heard or read many, many times within a meaningful situation. Boring, single-word vocabulary lists and flashcards are a terrible use of your precious language learning time.
  7. 7. Do NOT...6 ...try to learn new words, kanji, et cetera using “rote” memory. We have 5 senses at our disposal: use them all! Leverage the power of mnemonics and “imaginative memory” stories to create stickier, more robust memories. The crazier the story, the easier it will be to imprint in long-term memory.
  8. 8. Do NOT...7 ...overly rely on the written word. Whenever possible, try to listen to a piece of content first before reading it. This trains you to rely on your ears instead of your eyes, and better follows the natural order of acquisition. Remember, you learned to speak your first language long before you learned to read it!
  9. 9. Do NOT...8 ...look up words or structures before making at least one full pass through each section of your reading or listening materials. This allows you to better get into the “semantic flow” and stay focused on building fluency.
  10. 10. Do NOT...9 ...let the “affective filter” put a damper on your language learning. Your emotions and psychological state significantly affect your performance in a foreign language. If your teacher or tutor makes you feel nervous or stupid, fire them. You will never make any real progress if you are afraid to speak.
  11. 11. Do NOT...10 ...forget to have some fun! Language learning takes time, but it needn’t be difficult. If you follow the tips listed above and approach language learning with a smile instead of a grimace, you will succeed!
  12. 12. For more tips, tools, and tech to learn languages the fun way, visit: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.