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Things I sooo wish I’d known about learning a foreign language

If you're here, I'm assuming you're trying to learn English. Has it been frustrating?

🇫🇷 Some years ago, I spent several years diligently trying to learn French, but now I can’t say a thing. I spent hours every single day doing my homework and prepping, but I have nothing to show for it. 🤯

In the last few months, I’ve been learning Spanish, and I can already talk about myself, my family, talk about different professions, the weather, and a bunch of other things. It’s going well! 🤓 🇲🇽

So how can this be? Why such a huge difference?

Doing something is not the same thing as doing what needs to be done. Back when I was attempting to learn French, I was studying hard, not smart. 

My goal with this series of posts is to help you avoid common mistakes when learning English (and other languages), potentially saving you years of effort.

A woman is standing on a desk in a high-rise office, reaching up to place colorful sticky notes on a large window. The window offers a view of a cityscape with tall buildings. The text overlay reads, 'Things I sooo wish I’d known about learning a foreign language' in bold blue letters. The sticky notes represent a forgetful person that struggle to retain information, and so have to rely on reminders in order to remember things like words, phrases, and rules when learning a language such as English
sticky notes covering a window

"My memory sucks!"

When you learn something, you practice it, and soon after, you forget it. I used to think that I just had a terrible memory. The reality is that if you forget something soon after you learn it, your memory is completely normal.

It usually takes a lot more than just learning something and practicing it once to remember it long-term. If you learn that your friend is getting married or has lost their job, you will probably remember it after the first time you hear it because this may have a huge emotional impact on you. But if you learn a grammar rule or a lexical chunk (=phrase), it’s highly unlikely that you will remember it after the first time working on it. Soon you’re going to forget it.

A digital illustration of a black hole in space, with stars surrounding it. Inside the black hole is a document or webpage being pulled in. There are two labels with arrows: one pointing to the document labeled '*the stuff you learned in your English lessons,' and another pointing to the black hole itself, labeled '*a black hole. They used to say that most people forget everything they learn in their English lessons very fast as if it disappears in a black hole
black hole and English

Does this mean that there’s nothing we can do, and we’re just going to forget everything we learn?

The good news is that that’s not the case. You need to practice something again, and again, and again, in new ways, and the gap between practice sessions should increase.

So learn something today and practice it. Struggle with it. Work on it again tomorrow. Then in a few days, then in a week, then in a few weeks, then in a couple months. Over time, it will stick.

Knowing that it's completely normal to forget means you can and should adjust the way you study. You need to take into account the absolutely normal way your brain creates long-term memory.

Stay tuned for my next posts where I'll share more evidence-based information on how you can learn English more efficiently. God I wish I'd known all of this years ago when I started learning foreign languages! 😅

Tina is a professional English Teacher with a Cambridge education and 10+ years of teaching English to adults in-person and online.

She wants you and English learners like you to develop a solid understanding of what you need to do to start speaking better English faster (and not fall for English-in-a-month scams).



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