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How to learn a second language… as an adult

Learning a second language as an adult

There is a myth that it is much more difficult for adults to learn a second language than it is for children. Many people believe that you are basically ‘doomed’ if you didn’t start learning your second language as a child.

Fortunately, it is indeed only a myth. What is true is that adults and children learn languages differently. And while adults do experience some difficulties with learning a second language, they also have some advantages in learning as well.

So let’s take a look at the advantages of learning a second language as an adult, as well as at the difficulties you might have and how to overcome them.


Advantages of learning a second language as an adult

Before we go on with the difficulties, let us look at the bright side. Here are some of the advantages of learning a second language as an adult:

  • Adults possess greater comprehension ability and organisational practices, which basically means that adults are much better at learning things than children. They can organize their learning in many different ways. They also have more abilities to analyze what they are learning. For instance, you cannot explain complex grammatical structures to kids – but adults can analyse them.
  • As an adult, you’re choosing to study a language. Motivation and goals are extremely important in language learning. A lot of children are learning a language because they have to at school, or because ‘their parents said so’. They are not very motivated to learn and have no idea what they need the language for. Motivated adults with the right goals can actually be more successful.
  • Adults have more opportunities for practice. There are many different resources available for adult learning: YouTube channels, news, books, movies and TV shows, language exchange websites and many more.


Difficulties in learning a second language as an adult and how to overcome them

The advantages mentioned above may be great, but they do not change the fact that adults may experience some difficulties in learning languages that children do not have. Let us consider these difficulties and how to overcome them.

Adult brains are not as flexible. As a result, learning new things, such as memorising vocabulary, gets harder as we get older. It is also harder to adopt an alternative accent as an adult.

What can you do? First of all, start learning! Surprisingly, learning something new gets easier the more you do it, but you do need to start. Secondly, build up discipline with regular practice — you may need a few more repetitions to remember the new words, but you will remember them if you keep practicing.

Adults have less free time. There is work, there are chores, there is other ‘adult stuff’. This is where discipline comes in again. You need to deliberately find time for learning a language in your schedule and stick to it. But make sure to choose something that fits you — don’t plan for early classes if you are a night owl, or choose a language school closer to home to avoid traveling all across town.

Adults are more afraid of making mistakes. Children are more spontaneous. They just speak. While adults keep worrying about what happens if they use the wrong article or mispronounce a word.

You know what? Usually, nothing bad happens! You may need to work on this fear a little but remember this: speaking a foreign language with mistakes is much better than not speaking at all. Try to build a habit of speaking from the very beginning of learning a second language and it will get easier the more you do it.

Language apps can also be useful: Language Learning with Apps

To adults, language doesn’t come as naturally. While kids can easily pick up a language just through games and cartoons, adults need to make a conscious effort to learn a second language. Is it that bad? Not really. If you practice regularly and enjoy learning, success will come.

So, as you see, adults do learn second languages differently compared to children. But it does not mean that they are doomed. There are advantages as well as difficulties that can be overcome, but adults can learn foreign languages as successfully as children and sometimes even more! Think of the opportunities ahead!

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