Our Top Tips to Learn Languages as an Adult
Have you ever said:
- “You can’t learn languages as an adult, it’s for kids!
- “I think this language hates me, I can’t remember anything.”
- “I’m giving up. Languages are just not for me.”
Why does learning a new language feel so hard as an adult?
Learning a new language – even as an adult, or perhaps especially as an adult – makes us feel like we are back to being children. We feel vulnerable, exposed, ridiculous and incapable. So what is the answer? Waiting for years until you develop your confidence and then learn the language? Not quite.
Our writer, Maria, is here to share her personal tips on how she inspired her students to continue their journey with English, and how she, a passionate and often frustrated student, deals with the challenges of learning a new language.
10 key changes to learn a new language as an adult
1. Enjoy being ridiculous
Ever since I’ve started learning languages, I’ve accidentally insulted my entire nation, had sweaty palms when meeting new people, gone blank several times during lessons and smiled back awkwardly when I had no idea how to reply. The lesson? You will be ridiculous. There’s no way around it. Don’t avoid it, don’t hate it, don’t fear it. Being ridiculous is one of many ways your brain has to remind you that you still care about your own development and that you still have room to be a better version of yourself!
2. Do whatever it is you need to do
How often have you heard that listening to music is a great way to become fluent? Or that memorising lists of verbs is what you need to be a better speaker? Here’s the truth: if you need to improve speaking, you need to start speaking. All else will undoubtedly help make you a better communicator, but it is only complementary and enhancing, not the core practice you should be following. The same goes for all other language skills, depending on your goals. Speaking of which…
3. Do not mistake reception for production
There is a difference between receiving language and producing language. Speaking and writing force you to produce language. Reading and listening are comprehension skills. They are intimately related and can help improve the other, but doing one exclusively means the other will necessarily suffer. It will then take longer to reach an advanced level. Decide which language skills matter the most to you, and create a plan around those skills. If your goal is to learn a language overall, I always advise to start speaking now!
4. Make your learning as personal as possible
My students can recite an entire list of jobs in a second language: “engineer, actor, teacher, singer, waiter”. But as soon as I ask them: “What’s your job?” or “What’s your mother’s job?” they come to the realisation that they had never thought about it or how to say it. I’ve stopped following the typical structures, I recommend to choose what topics you’re interested in.
5. Create your own study materials
This is directly related to making your learning more personal. Choosing your own images for your flashcards, copying a text with your own handwriting, creating a collage of your favourite song lyrics or writing a short poem with new words you’ve learnt is not only more creative, but more memorable overall.
6. Forget what they taught you in school
Well, not exactly “what they taught you”, but rather “how they taught you to do it”. See, school is a fantastic thing but it can teach us to obsess over exams and lists of verb conjugations. Most language learners keep self-sabotaging as adults because their main focus is still showing others how much you know and “being prepared”. That is not how real life works, especially not with language learning.
7. Create a sense of urgency
If you need to develop your language fast for any particular reason, it’s time to create a sense of urgency. Join a class with actual teachers who will keep you accountable, as this will force you to show up and you’ll receive immediate feedback. You can also commit to tracking and sharing your progress online by joining language communities on social media and participating in language challenges.
8. Understand what is useful and what is wasting your time
Avid language learners tend to love detailed journals, huge manuals, countless grammar materials and hanging out with other language lovers on Twitter (cough cough…me!). It’s alright to dedicate time to your community and materials you love, but be careful not to waste your time on things that aren’t…well…learning your target language! Sometimes we create the illusion of learning when we are actually just relaxing or asking for tips, which means staying in our comfort zone. Actual learning comes with practice and making lots of mistakes!
9. Learn chunks, not words
Language teachers often advise their students against memorising words in isolation. I agree. It is much better to learn how native speakers use these new words in context. In order to avoid speaking like Tarzan next time you have an encounter with a native speaker, use chunk learning, which focuses less on grammar and way more on expressions people use every day and how they use them.
10. Accept that it’ll never be over
My adult students often ask me “When will I be fluent?”. What do you mean by fluent? If you are committed to learning a language, accept that language is a living being that has been developing for centuries and continues growing. That’s the beauty of learning a language – it is never over, and millions of people before you have brought it to this point.
Learn that language!
What small habits can you change to take you one step further?
You have the tips, now all you need to do is sign up for a Lingoda trial. Visit our website today and start your language learning journey.