How to learn a new language as an adult

Esteban Touma 8 June 2022

The way our brains develop makes it harder to learn new languages as we get older, but don't lose hope! You can still master a foreign tongue with these tips

Learning a new language can be a tough challenge at any age, however it seems to be exceptionally difficult to get the hang of a foreign tongue as we age.

This is because the human brain becomes less adept at soaking up new information straight away and takes a bit more processing and practice before it's able to hit its stride.

To help us on this path, Esteban Touma, teacher and Babbel Live content producer, shares his insight on getting to grips with learning another language as an adult and make language learning a fun part of your routine…

"The human brain becomes less adept at soaking up new information straight away"

As humans age, unfortunately adults become a bit less adaptable than kids—and we don't just mean physically!

We’ve spent years developing a mind system that’s great at organising information. This makes us really effective at learning new things, except for languages.

It’s hard to break with the rules of that system, and that’s exactly what you need to do, because you’re literally learning another system.

This is why it can seem easier for kids to learn a new language. Children are open-minded and their cognitive function is wide open, meaning it’s less work for them to pick up new things.

The good news is that learning a language isn't really that hard if you’re open to opening your mind! But it does take dedication and motivation to achieve your goals.

It’s about connection

Firstly, it’s important to remember that learning a language is not really about learning a language.

What you’re actually learning is how to communicate in a new way with other human beings, so keeping that in mind throughout the language learning process can really help you achieve your goals.

Try to connect with people you may know, or listen to podcasts and music in your target language, or read about the country's history.

"I will always remember how to say 'Dov’è la pizza e il vino? Subito!'. Priorities"

Also remember that you have to be ready to share your own unique human experience with others in that language, so make sure what you’re learning is related to you.

If I’m learning, say, Italian, I would never remember how to say “dove è la biblioteca?” or “where is the library?” but I will always remember how to say “Dov’è la pizza e il vino? Subito!”. Priorities.

Make it entertaining

Woman watching film on laptop with headphones and bowl of popcornWatching films in a foreign language is a great way to immerse yourself in your chosen country's language and culture

Watching TV shows in another language is an excellent way to get used to hearing a foreign tongue spoken in real-time.

Anything that exposes you to the language is great, so I would recommend engaging with entertainment in the language learning, so long as you find it enjoyable.

"Let yourself enjoy it and absorb what you can"

TV shows, films, podcasts and even video games are all great forms of entertainment for learning a new language.

Not only will these forms of entertainment lend added cultural and regional insights, but they’ll help you have fun while doing it, which will help you see your goal through until the end.

Keep these three steps in mind throughout your journey:

  1. Expose yourself to the new language
  2. Have fun
  3. Don’t worry about understanding every word or phrase—let yourself enjoy it and absorb what you can. You’ll learn more with time!

Patience is key

While you are learning, be patient with yourself. Learn to love your progress and celebrate your successes. Did you know the word “piano” means "piano", "slow" and "quiet" in Italian?

Adding a single new word to your vocabulary can be so beautiful and rewarding. The road to fluency can be hard, but the view along the way is really amazing, so it’s OK if you are driving slow.

Read more: How to train your brain to be smarter

Read more: 5 Reasons why every company needs proper translation services

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