Megan Waters

Eight language-learning tips for adults

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Learning a language is often a gateway to new experiences and can open doors to more possibilities. Although it can initially seem to be a daunting task, with a bit of hard work, determination and creativity, language acquisition can be a truly fulfilling journey.

Below are some useful tips that could ease your experience, improve your learning abilities and help you enjoy the process.

1) Have solid yet attainable goals

The fact that you’ve decided to undertake this challenging task means you have personal goals you want to achieve. Be it for personal development, future career prospects or migration, it’s advisable to have clear and realistic goals. Language learning is a combination of acquisition and learning, so don’t expect to be fluent by memorizing all the rules in one month.

Give yourself enough time to learn the rules then practice reading, writing and speaking as much as you can. Write down at least five goals or reasons you’ve decided to learn your chosen language, and look at this list when you’re feeling unmotivated or facing roadblocks.

2) Make learning a part of your daily life

To maximize exposure to the language, integrate learning into your daily life and soon it won’t feel like a chore. Try reading children’s books for simpler language then work your way up by reading about topics you find interesting. In addition, listen to podcasts or music during your daily commute—music offers a more enjoyable way to learn the intonation of another language. You could also use language apps, and change the language to the one you’re learning on your smartphone and computer browser.

3) Make the most of technology

There’s a wealth of mobile applications to download and online resources that can aid your language studies. TED recommends Duolingo because of its gamified approach to grammar and Anki’s intelligent flashcards can ease memorization and help increase retention. Memrise also provides mnemonics and etymology to help you learn and remember new vocabulary.

4) Learn cognates

Cognates are loanwords or borrowed words often recognizable from your native language with the same meaning in another language. Romance languages such as French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian have many borrowed words from English. To find common words in the language you’re learning, simply search for “[language] cognates” to see words other languages borrowed from English, and “[language] words in English” to see words the English language has borrowed from other languages.

5) Come up with mnemonics

Use your imagination and expand your vocabulary with mnemonics that can help retain information and glue new words to your memory. Basically, you have to think of a creative, funny, silly, or memorable story to associate with your target word. The most popular mnemonic is ROYGBIV, the first letters of the rainbow’s colors. Imagining scenarios would also help, for instance, the word “le parcours” means “route or course” in French. “Parcours” sounds like “parkour”, the physical training of moving freely using the body and the natural surroundings. The mnemonic could be “People who do parkour choose their own strange routes.”

6) Regularly practice speaking

Speaking with a native speaker would be ideal, but if you don’t live in the country where your target language is spoken, there are sites like CafeTalk that offer Skype lessons. Author, blogger and language learner Mark Manson reiterates that having an hour of conversation, with corrections and a dictionary for reference, is as good as five hours of learning in a classroom or 10 hours doing a language course by yourself.

Language is something that needs to be processed, not memorized. Our minds place more priority on memories involving actual human and social experiences. Don’t worry too much about making grammatical mistakes when you’re a beginner. Instead, focus on expressing yourself naturally.

7) Remember that age doesn’t matter

One of the myths we have debunked in a previous blog post is that children are better language learners than adults. Rather, children are better at “acquiring” language while adults could be more adept at studying the language and its rules. The Guardian reiterates that we may have learned languages organically and instinctively as children, but as adults we can learn them systematically. As with any undertaking, challenges are inevitable, but discipline and perseverance matter most.

8) Visit the country where the language is spoken

Travel is one of the best motivations when learning a language, and your experiences in the country can complement learning in the classroom. While you can regularly expose yourself to books and verb charts at home, nothing compares to going to the country where the language is spoken. You won’t only get the chance to practice speaking with native speakers, you would also be immersed in the culture that defines the language you’re learning.

What do you think is the most effective way to learn a language?

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Megan Waters
Megan Waters
Megan manages all things translator-related as Gengo’s Community and Digital Content Manager. Born in South Africa but now based in Tokyo, she’s passionate about languages and people. Megan spends her free time exploring secondhand shops, camping in the mountains and hosting the occasional dinner party.