Learning a Language As an Adult: 5 Tips and Some Encouraging Facts

Young adult women having a conversation about learning a language as an adult

Learning a language as an adult?

If you are trying to learn a second language as an adult, you already know that learning to speak a new language is hard enough as it is.

So…

You might think that learning a language as an adult is impossible.

Here’s the deal:

A new foreign language can be difficult to learn for anyone not only for adults, and linguists agree. However, that does not mean everything is lost as an adult.

In fact:

Here are some facts about learning a language as an adult that are intended to keep you motivated.

Are you ready to learn?

Let’s go!

Learning a Language as an Adult: 5 Tips and Some Encouraging Facts:

Group of friends hanging out and learning languages as adults

1. The Truth about Language Learning

Steven Pinker, a Canadian-American psychologist and psyco-linguist, thinks the language instinct is lost somewhere around puberty.

Children are amazing at learning while adults are linguistic dolts.

Why?

Well for children, learning a new language and the accent that comes with it is generally a simple journey because their only job is to soak up and imitate the sounds in their environment.

However:

With patience and persistence, it can be done. Speaking a new language requires more than lips, teeth, and tongue; it requires ears, eyes, and mental agility. You must listen carefully and then imitate.

Here are some questions to consider when language learning:

  • How can I focus on the target language more on a regular basis?
  • How can I remember new vocabulary?
  • Is there a better way to learn grammar rules more efficiently?
  • Is my goal to acquire native-like mastery of the language?
  • What can I learn from native speakers to improve my language skills?

2. Why do children learn Languages Easily?

Little boy with a camera illustrating how easily they learn.

Pinker points out the example of two brothers: Sam and David. David (Sam’s younger brother) has no accent, though, over eighty years after his emigration, Sam famously does.

How so?

They moved to the United States at the same time in the crucial years around puberty. David’s advantage, Pinker surmises, was being a few years younger than his brother when they moved.

In other words:

This made learning a new language easier, so he could overcome his accent. According to Pinker, the accent is as much a part of the language instinct as grammar.

Case in point:

Nothing can replace the childhood environment, much less the childhood brain.

Let’s be honest:

Speaking a new language requires more than lips, teeth, and tongue; it requires ears, eyes, and mental agility. Adults must listen carefully and then imitate.

3. Tip one: Understand that Learning a Language is a Gradual Process

colorful cogs in a machine to illustrate that learning a language as an adult takes processes and time.

Regular implementation of the language for gradual improvement is by far the most important element of learning to speak a new language.

Why?

Students often try to cram as much into their heads as fast as they possibly can. While an admirable approach in terms of effort, it often only leads to frustration and fatigue.

In other words:

You must be patient with yourself and focus on the consistency of your practice rather than studying several hours a day.

For example:

It’s far more helpful to spend five minutes twice a day, every day, thinking, reading, and speaking in the language with real-life situations rather than trying to memorize abstract words.

Where and when, though?

Practice out loud whenever you are alone.

in Fact:

Talk about your life, Start simple: “I go to work. I am in the car. I live in Vilnius.” Repeat these basics over and over, and then vary the subject.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

You’ll eventually feel the thrill as you graduate to compound sentences, tenses, and modal verbs (should, would, must, may). “I am going to work because I have to. I live in New York, and I love it here.”

For adults, those steps beyond baby talk are exciting to learn a new language and that’s what helps them become fluent.

4. Tip two: Implement Self-study habits to learn a new language

Woman writing on her journal and exercising her studying skills to learn a language as an adult.

A new language can be extremely difficult to master, and probably not a good idea if it’s your first one.

However:

If you decide to go the autodidact route, make sure to use top-notch resources and self-study habits.

For instance:

A good book can get you far in a language with straightforward rules for spelling or sentence composition but won’t do much unless you have other ways to make your learning experience enjoyable.

The good news?

There are plenty of apps that have something to offer adults, some of them teach grammar and vocabulary quite well, but seriously lack when it comes to practical speech.

Apps such as Duolingo or Clozemaster are great at instilling new expressions in learners while Preply provides live, online lessons so you can learn in an interactive way.

Here’s the deal:

The language resources out there are a dime a dozen and you shouldn’t have a problem finding the ones that match your personality or learning style.

However

What’s really going to make a difference is the habits you implement in your language-learning journey while making sure you execute them in your everyday life.

5. Tip three: Use the Language to Converse with Others (Enroll in a Class)

Man at a class giving a presentation in front of his classmates while practicing his language skills

If you live in any medium-sized city, language classes shouldn’t be too hard to find.

In fact:

If you’re in a big city, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Plenty of universities offer language classes, even for those who aren’t actually attending the school.

Not only that:

They often have language classes or broadcast television or radio programs with simple, clearly-spoken dialogue intended for children or language learners.

Case in point:

Attending classes is the single best way to motivate yourself. The desire to impress a teacher and classmates or a potential partner with your knowledge will help keep you on task.

If you have the means to get a private tutor, even better. But be sure to get a recommendation from a knowledgeable friend; not every native speaker is a good teacher.

6. Tip four: How To Restore The Innate Ability In Adults To Learn A Foreign Language (Immersion)

man taking a rejuvenating bath with limes and oranges to illustrate the importance of restoring our language learning skills

Whenever possible, bring the language into your immediate world through immersion.

How so?

Use small stickers to attach to items all around your home with their name in the language you’re learning. This is an excellent vocabulary-building technique.

Think about it:

If every time you reach for your coffee mug you see CAFE and you say the word to yourself, it will stick in your head.

Make sure you can also hear the language everywhere by listening to radio stations or popular artists in that language.

Streaming services such as:

Netflix, enable subtitles in your target language. You don’t need to understand absolutely everything, but this helps acclimatize you to the way native speakers use the language in everyday use.

Not only that:

You’ll get a crucial psychological boost when you can make out a few words. Do this every few days and you’ll be surprised by your progress.

Reading also helps.

Why?

If you’re familiar with the topic, you’re more likely to pick up vocabulary. You’ll start out with a dictionary, but once you learn frequently used words, you can go without it and guess the things you don’t know.

Optimize these elements in your learning strategy and you’ll be fine!

Mastery of a language depends on the number of conversations that you have. Don’t wait until you feel totally comfortable, or you’ll never start. Make it fun, make it a routine, and do so early.

7. Tip five: Relax! Adult Learners Can Learn A Foreign Language Quickly And Easily

Woman sitting in nature while closing her eyes to highlight the importance of relaxation when learning a language as an adult.

The biggest hurdle that adults struggle with while learning is psychological.

Why?

If you’re nervous about blundering through a new language in front of strangers, the best way to relax is to start slowly, finding the right learning environment for language acquisition.

Places such as:

  • Coffee shops
  • farmer’s markets
  • fitness classes

Some of these places are great for adult language learners to make the most use of their target language.

Think about it:

At your local coffee shop, taking your coffee away while saying gracias instead of thank you is a baby step that shows you’re trying.

The truth is:

Your pronunciation won’t be perfect; it might never be and that’s perfectly okay. Eventually, you’ll feel confident enough in speaking Spanish as when you speak in your native language.

When you’re ready and have the chance, smile and try speaking with your teacher in the corridor, your co-worker, the man who sells you cigarettes, or the waiter at your favorite restaurant.

See that grin?

A Native speaker loves to see you make the effort, and they’ll be delighted to see you break out new words and longer sentences.

If you kick yourself for every little slip-up (and you will make plenty), you’ll never progress.

In other words:

If you just relax and simply communicate, and most of all enjoy yourself

8. Final thoughts on learning a language as an adult

Group of male friends, hanging out, practicing their language skills and enjoying the sunset.

Learning new languages as an adult will be a challenging task for sure. Most adults think their ability to learn something has left them.

However:

If you learn to enjoy the process and come at it with bewilderment and curiosity, you will realize how fulfilling it can be, and the gradual improvement you experience will keep you going no matter your age.

Want to more?

Check out my other articles on learning Spanish and Language learning in general in the byond language blog.

Happy Learning!

Meet Daniel

Since he was a child, Daniel has been passionate about Social Dynamics. Learn how Daniel got his start as a Language Coach, and why he decided to start this language blog. If you want to send Daniel a quick message, then visit his contact page here.

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