Rocket Languages Blog 8 Mistakes Most Language Learners Make

8 Mistakes Most Language Learners Make



You just saw Anastasia and are dying to learn Russian. You desperately want to read In Search of Lost Time in its native French. A friend invited you to Kyoto and you plan to pick up some Japanese before you go. Whatever your reason for learning a new language, it’s an adventure!

It can also be tricky.

To make your experience as easy and fun as possible, avoid these mistakes that many learners make.

1. Many learners set unrealistic goals.

When you begin a new language, the sky's the limit. You’re amassing new words left and right, you’re pretty sure you sound like a native speaker, and grammar is so simple. (You could do subject/object/verb in your sleep!) At this rate, you’ll be fluent in a couple of months. Right? 

Unfortunately, no. Fluency takes time. You will plateau. The “simple” grammar rules will have exceptions, and those exceptions will have exceptional exceptions. You will realize your pronunciation isn’t as flawless as you thought, and you will wonder how you’ve been stuck on the same set of vocabulary words for three weeks.

Avoid frustration by setting realistic expectations from the start.

Don’t try to become fluent in six months; aim for a B2 level in one year. Instead of studying three languages, learn one. If you set reasonable goals, you’ll be more likely to achieve them.

Speaking of goals…

  2. Many learners set vague goals.

Set SMART goals. These are goals that are specific, measurable, action-oriented, reasonable and time-bound.

Don’t aim for “fluency.” That’s too vague—fluency means different things for different people. Spanish fluency for a businessman talking Peruvian clients into investment opportunities looks different from fluency for a grandson chatting with his abuelita.

And there are so many different dialects! Say you want to become fluent in Arabic. Moroccan Arabic is unintelligible to Emiratis, and Emirati Arabic is unintelligible to Egyptians. Do you have to learn every dialect to consider yourself fluent?

Instead, make your goals specific and measurable. This could be anything from passing level 1 of the HSK Chinese proficiency exam to reading your favorite book in your target language by the end of the year.

  3. Many learners don’t have an accountability partner.

Eventually, you will grow tired of your target language.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.

It might happen after a few months. It might happen after a few years. You’ll plateau.

When that happens, one thing can keep you going—an accountability partner. A partner will remind you why you loved the language in the first place and force you to continue even when you want to quit.

The ideal partner should be:

  • Someone who is on a similar language-learning level or slightly above,

  • Someone you feel comfortable making mistakes around and

  • Someone who builds you up and critiques you constructively.

​If it’s someone you see in person, that’s great! But it could also be someone you find on a language-exchange website or the Rocket Language forums.

  4. Many learners don’t check their progress with official tests.

Picture this: Every day at six a.m., you crack open your Portuguese textbook. You review your wordlist, you write an email to your accountability partner and you watch an episode of Avenida Brasil.

But then you take a trip to Portugal—and you’re completely lost. You don’t know nearly as much Portuguese as you thought.

What happened? You were doing everything right!


Everyone learns differently, so strategies that work for some people won’t work for you. The only way to figure out whether your strategies are actually effective is to test yourself.

Take the practice exams for official certifications—you can often find free versions online. They’re a fast way to test whether you’re progressing the way you think you are. And if you aren’t, adjust your study methods accordingly.

You can also try the tests in the My Benchmark section of your Rocket Languages course. Keep doing the tests regularly to keep on track.

  5. Many learners only use traditional methods.

Textbooks. Flashcards. Word lists.


You probably studied a foreign language in high school. How much of it do you remember? For many people, not much.

There is so much more to learning a language than memorizing words off a page. Put your index cards down and start brainstorming. Use social media. Play video games. Get creative!

  6. Many learners don’t speak to people.

At the end of the day, language is about communication. How well can you exchange ideas with someone? The true marker of a language is whether you can successfully exchange ideas with someone—which requires you to speak.

It’s normal to be nervous, especially if you’re just starting out. What if your accent isn’t good? What if someone doesn’t understand you? The only way to improve is to try!

Start small. If you’re learning the language on your own, chat with a tutor in our forums. If you can’t visit a country that speaks the language, go to a local community center or find an exchange group in your area. 

Don’t be self-conscious. The important part to practice, practice, practice!

  7. Many learners walk away from the language when they burn out.

If you burn out, you might want to walk away completely. You’ll convince yourself that you’ll return to the language when you get your fire back—in other words, when it’s as fun and easy as it was when you started.

Unfortunately, the language won’t get any easier after you walk away. You’ll start to forget what you’ve learned, which will make you even more frustrated when you return.

Instead, try something fresh, like a new TV series or album. Or pare back your studies. Instead of studying new material for an hour a day, for example, set a concrete restraint: For ten days, study for only fifteen minutes a day, reviewing what you’ve already learned.

  8. Many learners walk away from the language when they think they’ve “finished” it.

On the other hand, maybe you’re taking a break because you’ve reached your goals. You’ve passed the highest HSK level or you’ve gone on your trip to Kyoto.

Unfortunately, a language is a skill. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it—fast. Maintain your skill by keeping up with a penpal in the language, watching movies weekly regularly or just reviewing a stack of flashcards every day before bed.

Keep at it!

Above all, keep at it. As long as you persevere, you will improve and so will your study habits. So follow the easy tips above and you’ll be well on your way to success.

Post by guest blogger Jamie McGhee: Jamie McGhee is a novelist, playwright and aspiring polyglot currently making her way through East Africa with a backpack.



Just to bring up a topic in the Japanese forums, there are two people (myself) and another member who use this site who have taken the Japanese Language Proficiency test and passed.

Last December I took N5 level and passed and this July I took the slightly harder N4 level and just got the pass results last week. My personal goal is to work up the ladder and I am targeting N3 for next year. This gives me an official guide of where I am at run by a Japanese government controlled department as well as to set goals for the test. It was quite an excitement to be able to pass that test.

In all honesty I could say maybe 70% to 80% of this website helped me pass that test in regards to grammar and general knowledge. I did have to get textbooks as well as having basic knowledge from 2 years of Japanese study at high school about 15 years ago.

I am happy to say this website has helped me pass two levels of the test and I know it will be of some significant help when I attempt N3. After initially looking at the N3 requirements then I can safely estimate that this website will be good for possibly up to 50% of the skills required for that test.


I subscribed to TV Japan and watch it almost every day.  Not only do I get practice listening, but there are Japanese subtitles with the programs, so I get reading practice, too.  I'm not sure why they have Japanese subtitles on  Japanese language programs, but I'm glad they do.  I've learned lots of new vocabulary there, and am excited when they use a grammar point I've learned on Rocket and I understand it! 


I'll add to the going beyond traditional methodstext in your target language. Mundane things like, "としょかんで 会いましょう / Let's meet at the library" or "ケール、ブロコリ、キャベツを買って下さい / Please buy some kale, broccoli and cabbage" help with verb conjugation and vocabulary.

(It's best if you have someone to text with, but you can also just text reminders to yourself for later.)


Subtitles in the foreign language in the language you are watching also helps a lot by reading and hearing the pronunciation even if you did not understand the word at first you see the subtitle and read it and then immediately recognise how it was pronounced. I have found that useful too.


7. Many learners walk away from the language when they burn out.

Thank you for this advice it comes close to the moment that you describe where despite a lot of effort does not seem to be an equivalent return of success, just the opposite. I have tried the occasional Italian programme or film but will now follow your advice and spend about 15 minutes daily reviewing but also relax, watch and listen to the Italian language for a few days at a time.


Subtitles in the foreign language in the language you are watching also helps a lot by reading and hearing the pronunciation even if you did not understand the word at first you see the subtitle and read it and then immediately recognise how it was pronounced. I have found that useful too.

Agreed. I just wish it was easier to get Japanese products with Japanese subtitles. Despite the robust anime and dorama market in the USA, DVDs and Blu-Rays will have subtitles for five romance languages and Chinese before they have Japanese subtitles. Even the Japanese discs I import lack closed captioning / subtitles.


Certainly, subtitles are not only very useful and help with knowing what is being said but they are usually only a brief form of the conversations and not a full translation. Having said that I use them when I watch Italian films.


I find Japanese subtitles to their own language are more precise to what is being said unlike a translation subtitle. Much like you see the subtitles in English to an English speaking program it is a literal script of what is being said. Those are the types that I like.


Me, too, Tony, and it seems that the Japanese subs are literal translations, as near as I can tell anyway.


It is a weird feeling too seeing the subtitle and then hearing the word and realising you may have misinterpreted the words said if it were not for the subtitle.


Words can have a different specific/actual meaning than what you're taught it means. For example, おねがい します/Onegai shimasu/"Please" (polite form) means something more like "could you send it down" (I learned that from a Great Courses plus lecture) implying  that the speaker is below whoever is being spoken to, but it's balanced by a mild command. And あなた/Anata/"You" is more of an affectionate term used by a wife towards her husband. (Same lecture)
And in my opinion knowing the origins of a word helps with understanding it.


Excellent advice. Over the years, studying three modern languages- plus Latin - and now Italian, I’ve discovered that aside from using the ideal platform (Rocket!), variety is essential. There’s no excuse not to keep things varied these days, with videos and podcasts, plus social media networking.  

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