Last week, we shared how learning a foreign 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! You have to dedicate yourself to practicing, learning, and studying the language. Just like any other skill, practice makes perfect.
When you learn a language as a child, you are able to pick up on nuances and cultural aspects that take longer to learn when you are older. This is because your brain is still developing, and so you are able to soak up new information more easily than adults.
But why does it seem to take adults so much longer to master a language than children? After all, you’ve always heard that kids have an easier time learning a language. In fact, you may have even heard them referred to as “sponges,” as they have a knack for easily absorbing all kinds of information at a young age. So what gives? Why do adults have to put in hours of practice when children can seemingly pick up a language right off the bat?
Researchers have found that children who learn two languages before the age of 10 often have superior cognitive skills compared to those who only learn one language. So if you want to become fluent in a foreign language, it’s best to start young!
But what if you’re not a kid anymore? Can you still get started with learning a new language? There are some disadvantages of learning a foreign language as an adult but the benefits of learning a foreign language far outweigh them.
In this language learning guide, we’ll discuss whether children really have an easier time learning a language and pinpoint some tricks and tips to help you learn like a child. It’s time to let out your inner kid, and have a little fun!
What Are the Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language?
There are countless benefits of learning a foreign language, either as an adult or as a child, including:
- Improved problem solving skills
- Better spatial and verbal abilities
- Improved short-term and long-term memory
- Increased ability to think creatively
- Ability to think more flexibly
- Broaden your connection to other culture
- See the world
- Improve your confidence
…and many more! You’ll be amazed at the changes you see once you put the time into learning a foreign language. It doesn’t matter what the language is – the benefits are clearly there.Not sure how to get started with learning a foreign language? Although you can always try to teach yourself a new language, one of the best ways to learn is by working with a talented language instructor. Sign up for lessons, and get an idea of what you’ll cover in your lessons by watching the video below:
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.
18 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language as an Adult
Whether you want to learn French like a child or any other language for that matter, here are my tips to make language-learning both easy and fun. Trying out these tips in combination with taking language lessons will have you well on your way to speaking fluently sooner than you ever imagined.
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! Not only will these funny phrases and tongue twisters give you child-like joy, but they can also be great tools for memorizing tools and practicing pronunciations. Just beware—they might get stuck in your head!
Want to learn Spanish like a child? Try giving this doozy about tigers a go: “Tres tristes tigres tragaban trigo en un trigal.” Say that three times fast! But if you prefer to learn French like a child, you can’t go wrong with fun phrases like, “Ah, la vache” or “oh, my cow.”
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. If you’re looking to learn Korean like a child, why not pretend you’re ordering a meal at a street market in Seoul? Think about how you would address others and what certain kinds of food you would pick. 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. Whether you are dreaming up make-believe scenarios or engaging in real-life activities, 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. But you don’t have to hop on an airplane and visit an international destination to take advantage of this advice. You might be surprised at just how many opportunities there are for practicing a language in your own town. Connect with your community and begin exploring your options.
If you want to learn Spanish like a child, maybe you’ll discover a restaurant in town where native speakers work and dine. Order some food and strike up conversation! Ask for recommendations on the menu or simply see how their day is going. More often than not, you’ll find native speakers are happy to help others practice and learn their 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, whic