I’ve always enjoyed learning a new language. Whenever I travel to a new country I try and pick up a few moments, but I have a problem; after the years in Indonesia I can’t speak the language. Right now in fact I’m sitting at home trying to read an Indonesian newspaper. It should be a piece of cake, but it’s not. So if you want to avoid my problem, here are three fatal mistakes to avoid when trying to learn a new language.

1)   Laziness, pure and simple. To learn a new language you need to practice it, use it and build on it. Two years ago I just gave up. I reached that point where I’d learnt all I needed to know to make my life comfortable. In almost any social situation I can get by. If I meet an Indonesian they’ll praise my knowledge of their language, but I know four-year olds who have a bigger vocabulary than me. There are huge gaps in my knowledge of the language, which means a conversation might instantly dry up if I don’t understand the topic.

This laziness has been topped off with frustration that comes from my attempts to learn a new language. Unlike most European languages, like Spanish, which I learnt in Peru, I find it impossible to pronounce some words. My mouth just doesn’t seem to make the right shapes. It’s like the dentist has just given me an injection. My tongue hangs heavy in my mouth and when I try and speak jumbled words come tumbling out.

2)   Everyone knows English. Ok, that’s quite an arrogant statement, but almost everyone has a smattering of the language, and the more educated they are the better their language skills. The less English the person knows the more they want to practice. This can make it hard for me to kearn a new language when the lazy option is just resorting to English.

3)   One of the biggest pitfalls I’ve found to trying to learn a new language is relationships. Whenever I get into a new relationship with a person from the country I’m living in they can speak English. This makes me incredibly lazy when it comes to trying to learn a new language because I have a translator.

On the other hand though, when I travel with someone who speaks less of the local lingo than I do this problem fades rapidly away. Through necessity I find myself as the translator and other people looking to me to make their life easier.