As an adult, learning a foreign language can be tough. But it’s certainly not impossible! Check out these tips from French teacher Carol Beth L. to bring out your inner kid and make learning easier…
Last week, we shared how learning a language as an adult is different from what you may have experienced as a high school student (or even earlier on, if you were raised bilingual).
While recognizing the challenges and advantages is a great first step, it’s also important to put things into action. If you’re interested in learning a foreign language, whether it’s just for fun or for career prospects, you’ll need to put in some time and effort — there’s no way around that! In this article, I’ll share a few actionable tips to try, but with a twist.
It’s time to let out your inner kid, and have a little fun!
How to Learn a Foreign Language Like a Kid
First, let’s address the common question: Is it really true that kids have an easier time learning languages?
Early on, it probably is. Many psychologists and educators speak of a critical window during a child’s life (usually between birth and age 12) when it is easier for them to learn a foreign language. Generally, the earlier the child learns the language, the better the chance at complete mastery.
So, why is that?
During the early stages of life, children are able to recognize and distinguish the sounds that make up their native language or languages, and their brain is primed to acquire new words and grammatical structures. In short, a large part of what contributes to a child’s ease in learning is developmental. Provided the opportunity for exposure to a second language, the child will learn to make sense of what they hear.
As we grow older, however, the brain develops and “weeds” itself out. It adjusts to use the knowledge we have within a certain framework, rather than to quickly intake knowledge as it did previously. The way in which many adults learn is thus in many ways fundamentally different from the way children learn.
We can still learn from children in their approach, however. Instead of getting frustrated, why not try out a child-like mindset? You may feel silly, but these strategies can really help. Here are my tips to make language-learning both easy and fun.
1) Incorporate humor.
Children love to laugh! And in fact, neuroscience research has shown that laughter and humor can help you remember things better. Learning a foreign language doesn’t need to be all serious; in fact, it’s often best if it’s not. Learn silly phrases in French, tongue twisters in Spanish, and funny songs in Japanese. Amuse yourself. Look for the bright and cheerful side of life!
2) Incorporate play.
When children play, they find a topic or activity that is relevant to them, including when they play make-believe. Adults may not typically play in the same way that children do, but we can imagine, and we do have activities we like to do.
So when you practice talking in your target language, imagine real-life situations that you might find yourself in. Or, take a class in something you enjoy — cooking, playing music, sailboarding, etc. — entirely in your target language. In some cases, this is easier to do abroad. In other cases, you may be able to find a teacher locally or online who speaks your target language and teaches the activity you enjoy. This type of “play” can even help stimulate your mind and boost creativity.
3) Immerse yourself in the language.
Children are surrounded by their native or target language. So for this strategy, you’ll need to create a similar environment of immersion. This could be through an immersion program, or a trip to a country that speaks your target language. It could also be by surrounding yourself with friends, classmates, colleagues, and acquaintances who also speak or are learning the language.
4) Learn with stories and songs.
Find children’s songs and books in your target language or that are bilingual. This could be something super simple, or even a series like Harry Potter, which has been translated in 74 different languages. If it’s something you’re familiar with, you’ll find it easier to pick up new words from context.
Children also love to read or listen to stories again and again… and again! Doing the same as adults allows us the opportunity to reinforce what we’ve learned, so we can better understand the story and remember new vocabulary with each repetition.
Children are natural learners, but given the right tools, adults can be, too. Some of the most accomplished people are life-long learners, continually seeking out new knowledge. Learning a foreign language later on may sometimes be more difficult, but age certainly never puts it out of reach.
Photo by woodleywonderworks