We always hear that children have the advantage in learning a second language and that once we hit a certain age our brains become stuck and slower to learn. However, we are not so sure that learning stops at puberty. Having known many clever multi-linguals who have managed to learn a language well past the age of pimples, we decided to ask around for advice on the key ingredients for learning a language as an adult.
According to our sources, and to personal experience, the secret of mastering a new language as an adult comes down to 5 key essentials; Intensity, Immersion, Incentive, Interaction, and Fun.
Sorry people, a one-hour class once a week is just not going to get you speaking fluent Spanish for your next holiday. There really is no alternative to just putting in the hours. Better to do a short intensive class than to spread your learning out over years. Take a couple of weeks out of your schedule and enrol in a short intensive language class. Which brings us to the next essential…
Sinking yourself deeply into the language is the best way to learn. By putting yourself in a position where you need to use the language to communicate, you will have no choice but to use your new skills. These real-life lessons are the key to fluency. And, what a great excuse to book that holiday in France! Surround yourself with people who will only speak that language and you will be sounding like a local in no time.
Nothing happens without the will to change. Learning a language is the same; with a strong incentive you can pick up a new language much easier. Perhaps this is why so many international couples learn each other’s language so quickly. They have a natural incentive to learn. But, you don’t need to find an Italian lover to find the incentive to learn Italian. You can create an incentive in many ways: an incentive to communicate at work, an incentive to speak well on holiday or even an incentive to watch foreign films in their original language.
No man is an island and no language can be learned in isolation? Languages are living things and you must use them to learn them. Many would-be learners are tempted to rely on an app or an online program to learn a language. While there is some benefit to learning vocabulary and grammatical structures this way, without practice these lessons fade in time and become of little use. And, worse, many online learners find out the hard way that they have learned the language wrong in some key way and cannot use it to communicate in real life. Bummer!
Finally, the last key ingredient is of course fun. Learning a language needs to be enjoyable. In order to stay engaged and actively learning it, is important to have a little fun with learning. Appreciating the language, laughing at your attempts to use it, learning the jokes or how to make a cool play on word; these are the things that make a language come alive. Enjoy the thrill of understanding the words in a song, or finally understanding the joke. Language learning should never be too serious and a good dose of fun adds an essential flavour to the learning journey.
Make the most of these 5 essential ingredients, get over your fears of making mistakes, and jump right into learning that language you have always wanted to.
And, if you remember one thing from this post, we hope it is that you are never too old to learn a new language. To encourage you we have translated the phrase into some of the languages spoken by the people behind ILNI;
“You are never too old to learn”
“Men is nooit te oud om te leren”
“Du bist niemals zu alt zum Lernen”
“Non è mai troppo tardi per imparare”
“On est jemais trop vieux pour apprendre”
“Kamu tak pernah terlalu tua untuk belajar”
“Mahi ra har vaghat az ab begiri tazas” – Literally ‘It doesn’t matter when you catch a fish it is always fresh’