Do you still have a monster living under your bed?
When we become adults, most of us leave behind the irrational fears and superstitions we had as children.
That usually includes saying goodbye to the imaginary monster under the bed.
However, most of us adults still approach learning a new language by treating it like the monster under the bed that scared us when we were young.
Thinking about it freaks us out irrationally and we’re sure we’ll never survive it.
I hear you, but I have good news for you: learning a new language as an adult doesn’t have to be scary!
The Truth About Learning a New Language as an Adult
The truth is, adults can learn languages as easily as those in their younger years. In some ways, adults even have a leg up on those little whippersnappers since adults better understand their personal strengths, weaknesses and learning styles.
It’s easy to be jealous of children who grow up in bilingual atmospheres, but you better believe that becoming a bilingual adult can be almost as easy as becoming a bilingual child.
If you feel like you need a pep talk every time that you open a language-oriented textbook, pay close attention to what I’ll tell you today.
And, most importantly, remember that you’ve got this.
Seriously, you’ve got this! Have confidence in yourself in all things that you pursue.
The fact alone that you’re fluent in your mother tongue is proof enough that we all possess the intelligence to pick up a language.
No matter your personality or preferred learning style, there are some things that you need to know and understand when learning a new language.
3 Things You Should Know as an Adult Learning a New Language
Below you’ll find three things that you need to do if you want to successfully learn a language as an adult.
These aren’t “either/or” suggestions, though. You pretty much have to do each of these things to at least some degree, otherwise it will be much harder—if not impossible—to succeed in your language learning quest.
1. Immerse Yourself in the Language You’re Learning
Nearly everyone agrees that if you want to truly learn a foreign language, you need to do so in an immersive environment—or at least create a learning environment that’s as immersive as possible.
It’s often hard to find or create that immersive environment, to say nothing of the challenges of moving to a foreign country to learn a language! Fortunately, this is where adult language learners have an advantage.
Adults have the ability to choose their surroundings on a day-to-day basis. It’s up to you to recognize these opportunities in your everyday life and take advantage of them.
For example, spending time at restaurants that serve food associated with the language that you aspire to learn can factor into your cultural immersion and language learning experience. You might just find a new favorite if you’re open to trying different cuisines.
Next, you need to learn the slang. We all aim to sound like a native, right? Knowing the proper slang words will make your new language skills more practical and guide you as you assimilate into a new culture. Slang words are the difference between conversing in the classroom and in the real world. As you can assume, slang words will give your conversations excitement and authenticity. It creates common ground, and mastering a few slang phrases in your target language will help you manipulate the language and create your own phrases.
Now that you’re hopefully sold on the importance of “slanguage,” it’s time to get studying. Consuming a wide variety of media in your language is a great way to build up your knowledge of slang, and FluentU is a great resource for that very media!
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
It’s also a good idea for you to listen to music in your target language. Take the time to do the research, pick a few favorites, create your go-to playlist and grab your headphones.
Listening to music in your target language will allow your mind to become familiar with the nuances that you may not read about in your textbook. Music is catchy and you won’t even realize that you’re learning!
Podcasts are another great resource to foster success in your new endeavor. Some podcasts are even made specifically for those learning the language, but you can also learn a ton from podcasts geared towards native speakers, as long as you choose something that interests you. For example, most languages have some podcasts that discuss topics in the news, and as you rise through the ranks to become an advanced speaker, it’ll be important for you to stay in the loop with current events.
As an adult, you take in a vast amount of information every day. Use this to your advantage and be sure that you’re gaining your new knowledge bilingually.
2. Integrate the Desired Language into Your Everyday Life
A perk of being an adult learner is that you have control over your schedule. As an adult you’re able to organize your own life, and this is a huge win.
As we’ve already seen, it’s important to immerse yourself by putting yourself into situations where you can have as many opportunities as possible to speak the language. However, just because you hang out near people speaking a language doesn’t mean you’ll automatically learn the language through osmosis. A lot of the time, you’ll need to actively do things to help you learn.
If you crave language immersion but are unable to spend a significant portion of time in the native land of the language, it’s time to get creative. Think out of the box and transform your home into a language immersion paradise.
For example, many of us study a language in school when we’re young. However, we often don’t learn anything, or we forget what we’ve learned immediately after we’ve regurgitated the answers for a test (let’s just blame that bad habit on the monster under the bed). Still, why not turn that experience into something positive? Dig out your flashcards or word lists from primary school and get to labeling! Repetitive viewing of these labels throughout your home will help work vocabulary memorization into your everyday life.
And if you’re a newbie to your language (or if you threw out your old class notes), you can even find pre-made vocabulary stickers that you can stick all over your house! Use your advantage of being the adult in control and re-decorate your home with bilingual notes. As an added perk, the time that you spend labeling your home counts as studying!
As you look around your well-labeled house, you’ll realize that you can “hack” nearly every aspect of your life and your surroundings to help you learn more effectively.
For example, there’s no need to push your Netflix habit to the back burner to create more time for studying. Instead, keep watching your favorites—only change the audio language or add subtitles! The same goes for TV shows and movies. Far from being merely a distraction from your learning, they can be amazing tools to help you learn quickly.
If you prefer stationary words to moving pictures, picking up a written publication in your target language from your local bookstore is a great way to learn. Reading in a foreign language can be intimidating at first but if you’re persistent, you’ll thank yourself later. Find a genre that’s your jam. Especially when starting out, it helps to choose fun things that you’ve already read or are familiar with in your native language.
Whether you’re reading a magazine or the subtitles on your TV, save new words and phrases that you find and review them later. This can be done easily when reading digital materials so it’s a good idea for you to check them out as well.
The next part of creating your own learning environment is perhaps the most effective: find someone to share your new passion with. Whether it’s a coworker, a friend or a dear family member, it’s likely that someone near you also wants to improve their lives through the power of language.
Adults also have a leg up in terms of mobility and increased social possibilities. Take advantage of these opportunities and connect with someone who also wants to learn a new language.
If there’s already someone in your life who speaks your chosen language, great! Connect with them and commit to speaking. Even if some interpretive dance is required, the fluent you from the future will thank the present you for reaching out to your language partner.
If you don’t happen to already have a speaking partner, seek out communities of like-minded aspiring language learners. If utilized properly, social media sites and apps like Facebook and Twitter can be huge assets. Type your new language into the search bar and get to scrolling. Before long you’ll find an account or group that you can confidently learn and grow with.
When you find yourself surrounded by others who can encourage as well as challenge you, there’s less of a chance that you’ll fall behind or, worse, abandon your language commitment. Even from a distance, the group mentality is proven to work.
It’s important for you to not be shy about practicing! No one expects perfection, but everyone is appreciative when they know you’re trying to learn to communicate with them. Nobody’s perfect, and that’s OK!
Which brings us to our next topic.
3. Understand that You Exist on a Language Learning Curve
Our brains are like muscles and, just like the ones we have in the rest of our bodies, if you practice enough, muscle memory will start to kick in. Practicing a new language engages your brain and requires you to listen, think and process new information, but after a while those processes start to become automatic.
However, it doesn’t become automatic immediately. There’s no doubt that learning a new language is tough stuff. The consistency of the time that you put in will ultimately dictate how quickly you’re able to pick up your new language.
So while you may not get there immediately, you’ll get there eventually. Learners exist on a language learning curve, and that’s a positive aspect of the process. I guarantee you’ll reach a point when it begins to click in your brain. Just like magic, you’ll find it easier and easier to make word associations and retain information in your target language.
As mentioned before, you’re an adult, so you can do what you want! The ability to be in charge of your schedule is key to fitting language learning in when it’s best for you. On that note, set some short-term and long-term goals for yourself. It’s also a great idea to include them as part of a broader goals system, to ensure that you’re held accountable.
Your long-term goals will enable you to plan where you want to be in a year or several months. Your short-term goals will help you concentrate on integrating the language into your everyday life in the here and now, while also breaking your big goal into more chewable bites.
As you’ve gathered from reading this post, the control that you command over your own life as an adult is an asset and luxury that children don’t have. Take advantage of this fact! You’ve earned it.
You’re never too old to expose yourself to the joy of learning a new language. Nobody ever said that it was going to be easy, though.
But if you want to learn a language, the time that you put in will be worth it. Keep your eyes on the prize! Stay motivated.
Now that you’re equipped to conquer a new language, go out and do it! There’s nothing that can stop you—not even a monster!
Katie Reese is a freelance writer with a passion for languages. She has a love for cultures that differ from hers and believes that every person has something to offer the world. Language is a superpower that serves to open others up and learn from their life experiences.