Learning a Language as an Adult: 5 Tips and Some Encouraging Science

Do you still believe there’s a monster living under your bed?

I bet you don’t, because when we become adults, most of us leave behind the irrational fears we had as children.

Many of us, however, think adult language learning is just as frightening as that imaginary monster.

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 Adult Language Learning

Adults can learn languages. That’s the simple truth.

It’s easy to be jealous of children who grow up bilingual, but learning a language as an adult has just as many awesome benefits.

And while, statistically, young learners do acquire near native-like skills in their second language, adult language learners actually have a leg up on those little whippersnappers.

Adults have a better understanding of their personal strengths, weaknesses and learning styles. Factors like motivation, mindset, learning environment and learning strategies are all things we can control.

And they have a major impact on your success as a language learner.

So use the following tips to help you learn a new language as an adult. You got this!

Tips for Adults Learning a Second Language

1. Have a Positive Mindset

No one likes doing things that they think they’re bad at.

So before you start learning your new language, tell yourself that you’re going to succeed! It’s okay if you don’t fully believe it yet—just get in the habit of being positive about your language studies.

After all, you have a lot working in your favor:

  • You have self-motivation.
  • You know how to learn.
  • You can choose resources that interest you.
  • You can figure out strategies that work for you.
  • You already know how one language works.

Even if all your years in school didn’t teach you a second language, you did learn a lot.

You learned how to memorize and study. You learned about a lot of learning methods and resources. You (hopefully) learned how important determination and consistency are.

All of this will make learning a language as an adult even more efficient. You already have the mental tools you need to succeed.

2. Immerse Yourself in the Language

One of the best ways to truly learn a foreign language is in an immersive environment.

It’s often hard to find or create that immersive experience, to say nothing of the challenges of moving to a foreign country to learn a language.

Fortunately, this is where adult language learning has an advantage.

As an adult, you take in a vast amount of information every day. Take advantage of this!

You can use your target language to:

  • Watch movies and TV shows. Change the audio, add subtitles or do both!
  • Listen to music. Put it on in the background or make it the focus of your next study session.
  • Get the news. Watch or read international news, or news from a country that speaks your target language.
  • Read. Start with children’s books or language magazines, or try a favorite novel in your new language.
  • Listen to podcasts. Choose a podcast made for language learners or pick a native one that interests you.
  • Surf the internet. Change your phone or computer to your target language, then use as normal!

Adults have the ability to choose their surroundings. If you recognize the opportunities in your everyday life and take advantage of them, you’ll see that learning a language as an adult isn’t so scary after all.

3. Integrate Active Language Learning into Your Life

Now that you’ve surrounded yourself with your target language, you have to make an active effort to understand it and learn from it.

This is the time to put your favorite learning strategies and study skills to the test. Crack open those textbooks, make flashcards and grammar lists, fire up those language learning apps and get to studying!

You can use some pre-made vocabulary stickers to help you learn. As the adult in control, you can re-decorate your home with bilingual labels.

You can save new words and phrases when you’re reading a magazine or TV subtitles and review them later.

You can even learn directly from authentic videos like movie trailers, news shows and inspirational talks. For example, FluentU uses content like this to immerse you in your target language.

The program uses interactive subtitles, a video dictionary, quizzes with text and voice input and flashcard reviews based on each clip you’ve watched.

FluentU offers 10 languages, like French, Chinese and Spanish. It’s available on the web and mobile (Android or iOS). 

And no matter how busy you are, I promise you have more time than you think that can be used for flipping through flashcards, jotting down useful sentences or learning helpful phrases.

A perk of being an adult language learner is the ability to arrange your own schedule. Fit language learning into it whenever and however you can.

4. Use the Language to Converse with Others

What is language for? Communicating with other people, of course.

Don’t forget that, as an adult, you already know how to communicate in your own language. You know how to handle countless social situations.

And that’s a major advantage for adults learning a second language. Cultural differences notwithstanding, you already know what to say; it’s just a matter of learning how to say it.

So find someone to share your new passion with. It could be a coworker, a friend or a family member. It’s always good to connect with fellow learners. You can often find other students on social media sites and apps

The best way to practice communicating, of course, is with a language exchange partner—someone who speaks your target language as a native.

The key is to put yourself in as many situations as possible that give you the opportunity to speak the language. Join or start a language club, attend meetups, connect with others and keep the conversations flowing.

Lastly, don’t be shy about practicing! No one expects perfection, but everyone is appreciative when they know you’re trying to learn to communicate with them.

5. Understand that Learning a Language Takes Time

I guarantee that you will reach a point when it all begins to click in your brain. You’ll find it easier and easier to make word associations and retain information in your target language.

Because, in much the same way that we have to work out our bodies, our brains need workouts too.

Practicing a new language engages your brain and requires you to think and process new information. And, like exercising, those processes will eventually start to become automatic.

However, it won’t happen immediately. Learning a new language is tough. But if you’re consistent with the time that you put in, you will pick up your target language.

Set some long-term goals to plan where you want to be in several months, or in a year. Then, set short-term goals to help you break your big goal into chewable bites and integrate the language into your everyday life.

And when you feel your motivation waning (and it will), be patient and remind yourself of Tip #1: You can do this!


You’re never too old to learn a new language. And the command you have over your own life as an adult is beneficial to that process.

Now that you’re equipped to conquer a second language, there’s nothing that can stop you—not even the monster under the bed!

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