I wanted to join a youth group that was traveling to Spain. As I didn’t know a lot of Spanish I prepared myself by learning phrases by heart. It helped a lot, and I had the impression that I was making progress.
But then, something terrible happened: I met a Spaniard in a train. He talked to me in Spanish and I didn’t get anything – not one word. What a disaster!
I learned by this experience two things:
First, memorizing does not help if it’s not combined with other stuff. It may be totally useless if you do it just on its own as I did. It gives you the feeling you understand things while you don’t. You understand what you learned but don’t allow people to divert from the memorized phrase, or else you will be lost.
The second thing is even more important: I learned to mistrust my feelings about language learning. Quite often you are worse than you think. Sometimes you are better. I remember learning French and the teacher had encouraged us to listen to songs and answer questions. She wanted us to guess and very often I was right.
Consequently, a good and thourough evaluation is necessary. If you want to be sure about your level someone else needs to test it.
The story ends quite positively: the youth trip to Spain didn’t work out and I went to Poland with friends. I didn’t live more discouraging moments. And I learned some phrases in Polish which is a language that is not very popular but very nice.