A multilingual person shares: Best way for adults to learn a second language
by Alison Maciejewski
October 14, 2020
woman discussing the Best way for adults to learn a second language

People often ask Alison for the best way to learn Spanish or learn English or learn German. They see that she can speak multiple languages with ease. She is from the US, but speaks fluent Spanish and fluent Thai as well. She’s studied Tagalog, Czech, and now she is learning Turkish. Does Chileno count as a separate language? As a multilingual person, people think that Alison must know a secret way to learn. Today she shares her 4 tips for the best way for adults to learn a second language.

How to learn a second language for adults

Learning a second language isn’t about tricks. It’s about a step-by-step formula. From growing up with family in Chile to living in other countries as an adult, I figured out how to get past the basics and move on to real conversations. Hopefully what I know can help you too. Here are my 4 simple steps to picking up a second language as an adult.

  1. Choose a language
  2. Learn the basics
  3. Practise with native speakers
  4. Immersion

By following these four steps, anybody can learn a second language and learn to speak with confidence.

1. Choose a language you are motivated about

Choosing a second language gets at the root of language learning. Where do you find motivation? When I was young, I had to learn Spanish to speak to my family in Chile. I had built-in motivation. Since then, moving to a new country has given me motivation to learn other languages. I moved to Thailand so I chose to learn Thai. Simple.

Do you plan to study abroad in South America? Did you meet a handsome German guy online? Do you need business English because your dream job is in the UK? Are you moving to Japan to teach abroad? Learn a language that has a built-in reason for you. With the right motivation, chances are high that you will stick with your studies. 

2. Learn the language basics

Learning the basics of a language is how you start. This means how to say hello, how to count from 1-10, how to meet new people, and how to be polite (please and thank you). Basics can include things like correct pronunciation and tones also. If you learn the basics well, you will have a strong foundation to improve. If you don’t, everything goes wrong. First, you won’t sound right when you speak. Second, people will have a hard time understanding you. Third, native speakers will be less willing to speak with you. Though effort is appreciated, sometimes a bad accent is like nails on a chalkboard. As a result, you will feel insecure about your language ability and likely give up.

Want to learn a language? Don’t forget culture and context!

3. Practise with native speakers

A huge part of getting the basics is to practise with native speakers. This can be with friends or qualified teachers in online lessons at home. The main goal is to get your foundational pronunciation and vocabulary correct. Ask for correction. Tell your instructor that you want to sound as natural as a native speaker. 

Practising with native speakers creates a positive feedback loop that rewards your efforts and feeds your motivation. Every successful language learner has breakthrough moments. For me, the Thai food street vendor who commented, “You speak Thai so clearly!” was a much-needed push towards becoming fluent. 

4. Immerse yourself in the second language

Move to another country. Seriously. Put yourself in a survival situation and watch how quickly you improve. Headed to university? Study abroad. No other time in your life presents such a valuable opportunity. Besides, studying is one of the easiest ways to get a visa.

Not in university? Take that au pair job you’ve been eyeing. Can’t move abroad? Immerse yourself from home. Improve your Spanish by listening to podcasts and watch Netflix in Spanish. The more you consume your target language, the faster you improve.

There is no trick to learning a second language, but there is a natural formula. Choose a language that you are motivated to learn, get the proper basics, talk to native speakers as much as possible, and immerse yourself in your target language. Follow these steps and you will be bilingual in no time.  

Start learning a second language with Lingoda! Take advantage of a free 7-day trial with a native English, Spanish, or German instructor today. 

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