10 steps to overcome language-learning barriers

Have you ever felt like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back on the road to learning a new language? It’s easy to feel stuck when you’re constantly forgetting new expressions you’ve learned and grammar rules keep getting jumbled up in your head. Many learners face barriers that are seemingly impossible to overcome. 

But the good news is, with the right tools and practices, there are lots of things you can do to make your life easier. 

So, here are ten common language-learning barriers and how to overcome them!

1. Organise your learning materials

When it comes to language learning, chaos can be your worst enemy. Just think of all the times you failed to review an English lesson because you couldn’t find your notes. When your learning materials are all over the place, your knowledge will be scattered and full of gaps, too. 

All it takes is a little bit of effort to create some order. Sort your learning materials into categories – for example, grammar, vocabulary, writing skills, etc. 

Then stack them into piles or bind them into folders. You can get creative and use colourful pens, post-its and stickers to label everything. Buy some blank notebooks and turn them into personal dictionaries: whenever you learn a new word, write it down in the notebook along with a definition (preferably in English). Plan systematic revisions of your learning materials and you’ll clean up the chaos in your brain in no time.

2. Get out of your comfort zone

A common mistake that learners make is that they don’t push themselves to use the language they’re learning in real-world scenarios. Try to spend as much time as you can with people who don’t speak your native language. This way, you’ll be forced to practice outside of the classroom. 

If you don’t have any English-speakers around, go to meet-ups and language exchanges or find people to chat with online. At first, it won’t be easy: you might feel self-conscious and worry about what other people think when you make a mistake. But remember, learning is a process and you’re making progress every day. Just get out of your comfort zone: that’s where growth happens.

3. Learn from your mistakes

Language learning is a slow process. When you’re already feeling frustrated and your ego is in a fragile state, it’s easy to take criticism the wrong way. But the truth is, asking for feedback and learning to appreciate criticism is one of the best things you can do to speed up the learning process.

Next time you talk to someone in English, ask them to gently correct you or repeat an incorrect sentence you may have said in the correct way. It might feel strange at first but you’ll get used to it and you’ll learn so much from your own mistakes. Keep in mind that your mistakes don’t define you – they’re a part of the journey towards growth. 

4. Watch daily videos on YouTube

There are so many great resources for language-learning on the internet. One of them is the world’s largest video-sharing platform, YouTube. From educational content aimed directly at language learners to regular content created in English – like vlogs – you’ll definitely find something that interests you. 

Set aside time every morning to watch a video or two on YouTube. If you learn something new – an expression or a grammatical structure – make a note of it and go back to revise it the next day. You won’t find a better and more accessible resource for real-world English. 

Some of our favourite channels include: English with Lucy and Learn English with TV Series

5. Read your favourite books in English

Remember that book you loved so much and have been planning to re-read? Now’s the time. Just make sure you get an English copy of it!

Reading is one of the best ways to enrich your vocabulary and get more comfortable with the English language. It’s even more beneficial if you’ve already read the book in your native language. If you don’t understand something, there’s a good chance you’ll remember what happened and you’ll be able to fill in the blanks. 

Make sure the book you read is at the right level for you. Click here to take our Quiz and find your reading level!

6. Follow social media accounts that help you learn English

We spend so much time on social media every day, we might as well make the most of it. Fortunately, there are some amazing social media accounts out there that can help you learn English in a fun way. 

Whether it’s your pronunciation, your grammar skills or your vocabulary that you’d like to improve, you can find masterfully curated accounts run by teachers and educational companies. If you’re not sure where to start searching, check out these 10 great social media pages for language learners.

And don’t forget to set the language of your accounts to English for some extra practice! 

7. Learn a few poems and recite them

Pronunciation is one of the biggest challenges of mastering the English language. There are so many exceptions to rules and many words sound very different to the way they look. 

A great way to practice is by learning poems or short stories by heart and reciting them to your friends and family. If you practice enough, you’ll be able to really focus on your pronunciation without having to simultaneously think about what you’re saying. This is a great tool to hone your speaking skills. You’ll thank yourself for it in the future. What’s more, you can show off your knowledge of English literature to your loved ones – which, if you ask us, is pretty cool. 

8. Try thinking in English

Have you ever tried to turn your inner monologue into English? Maybe that long-awaited “switch” hasn’t happened yet, and you’re still thinking in your native language when speaking English, translating sentence by sentence.

Here’s something you can try. Whenever you catch yourself thinking in your native language, try switching to English. You won’t feel embarrassed because no one can hear your thoughts, but you can still practice by making up mini-conversations or describing things around you to yourself. It might sound a bit silly, but take our word for it. It will help you start thinking in English when you’re having a conversation that’s not in your head. 

9. Fall in love with the process

How many times have you thought to yourself: “I wish it were all over and I finally spoke English fluently!”

Keeping your eyes on the end goal can be good for motivation, but putting too much emphasis on the future can damage your experience of the present. Instead of wishing you were already at the destination, enjoy the journey! 

Language learning is a beautiful process. You can get better every single day. Focus on what you’re doing right now to reach your goals instead of obsessing over the goals themselves. 

10. Take the Oxford Test of English

When you’re trying to achieve something that takes a lot of work, setting measurable goals is very important. In the case of language learning, a test can serve as the perfect opportunity to gauge where you’re at and provide a specific challenge to prepare for. 

To help you figure out your strengths and weaknesses, choose an adaptive, modular test like the Oxford Test of English. The test adapts the level of difficulty according to the answers you give, resulting in a more motivating (and shorter!) test. This means you’ll also receive a more precise measure of your language level. The test is also flexible, so you can choose which modules you want to take and when you want to take them. 

Click here to find out where your nearest Oxford Test of English Test Centres is now!

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

Every year we help millions of people around the world to learn English. As a department of the University of Oxford, we further the University’s objective of excellence in education by publishing proven and tested language learning books, eBooks, learning materials, and educational technologies.

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