- Learning a foreign language as an adult is challenging, but there are ways you can easily enhance the process.
- Here are five strategies you can employ to help you learn a new language more efficiently.
You’ve likely heard that learning a new language is easier for children than it is for adults. But all hope is not lost for grown-ups looking to expand their linguistic knowledge.
While a recent MIT study did pinpoint 17.4 years as the cut-off for obtaining a native-like mastery of another language’s grammar structure, the results of the same study suggest that people over the age of eighteen can definitely still learn a foreign language quickly – they just may not achieve the same native-like proficiency.
It is also important to remember that children are not inherently better learners than their adult counterparts: the two groups just learn very differently, and, in fact, there are a few ways that adults can outperform children in language acquisition based on their longer and more robust life experiences.
If you’re a person over the age of eighteen determined to learn a foreign language, read on for five easy strategies you can employ today:
1. Use an app
From the popular gamifications of Duolingo and Mindsnacks to the more traditional curriculums offered in Busuu and Babbel, downloadable language-learning apps abound. These apps offer bite-size vocabulary and grammar lessons at your fingertips, and many of them are free or extremely low-cost.
Be sure to check out the specific features that each app offers: for example, many of the programs allow you to set daily time goals directly within the platform or connect with other learners and native speakers via chat if you have questions.
2. Practice in your community
After you master your vocabulary and memorise grammar rules, take your knowledge out into the world around you. Try asking what the platos del día are the next time you visit your favourite papusa joint, or order that pirozhki from the Russian bakery in Russian.
Not only is this a great way to put your knowledge into practice, you’ll also build relationships with people in your community that can lead to continued and nuanced learning.
3. Join a language exchange program
Language exchange programs pair up people in the hopes that they can teach each other their native languages through conversation. When I participated in an intercambio (exchange) program while living in Spain, I talked to my partner using only my intermediate Spanish skills, while she spoke to me only in English. This face-to-face set up allowed us to correct the other person when she used the wrong word or verb tense in real time.
What’s more, the kinds of conversations that arose during our time together tended to be much more casual and natural than the conversations I was having in my college-level Spanish class that I was taking concurrently, which led to my partner and I teaching each other colloquialisms from our respective homes.
4. Read familiar books in a new language
Do you re-read “To Kill A Mockingbird” every year? Can you quote the first chapter of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” from memory? If you have certain pieces of literature that you are intimately familiar with, consider picking up that some tome in a different language and reading the two books side-by-side.
Since you’re dealing with translation, this approach can introduce you to words and idioms that you might not naturally stumble across in a more traditional language-learning curriculum.
5. Listen to language-specific radio or podcasts
Tuning into radio stations, podcasts, or even books-on-tape spoken exclusively in the language you are trying to learn is an especially good way to absorb linguistic knowledge.
Since these auditory experiences are typically designed for fluent speakers, the people talking or singing tend to do so at an extremely fast pace, forcing your brain to synthesise the information faster.
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