Realize That Adults Are Actually Better Language Learners Than Kids
Now that youre armed with a ton of resources to get started, lets tackle the biggest problem. Not grammar, not vocabulary, not a lack of resources, but handicapping misconceptions about your own learning potential.
The most common I give up misconception is: Im too old to become fluent.
Im glad to be the bearer of good news and tell you that research has confirmed that adults can be better language learners than kids. This study at the University of Haifa has found that under the right circumstances, adults show an intuition for unexplained grammar rules better than their younger counterparts.
Also, no study has ever shown any direct correlation between reduced language acquisition skill and increased age. There is only a general downward trend in language acquisition in adults, which is probably more dependent on environmental factors that can be changed . Something my friend Khatzumoto once said that I liked was, Babies arent better language learners than you they just have no escape routes.
As adults, the good news is that we can emulate the immersion environment without having to travel, spend a lot of money, or revert back to childhood.
Learn Cognates: Your Friend In Every Single Language
Believe it or not, you alreadyright nowhave a huge head start in your target language. With language learning you always know at least some words before you ever begin. Starting a language from scratch is essentially impossible because of the vast amount of words you know already through cognates.
Cognates are true friends of words you recognize from your native language that mean the same thing in another language.
For instance, Romance languages like French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and others have many words in common with English. English initially borrowed them from the Norman conquest of England, which lasted several hundreds of years. Action, nation, precipitation, solution, frustration, tradition, communication, extinction, and thousands of other -tion words are spelled exactly the same in French, and you can quickly get used to the different pronunciation. Change that -tion to a -ción and you have the same words in Spanish. Italian is -zione and Portuguese is -ção.
Many languages also have words that share a common root, which can be spelled slightly differently, but that youd have to try hard not to recognize, such as exemple, hélicoptère , porto, capitano astronomía, and Saturno . German goes a step further and has many words from Englishs past that it shares.
Thats all well and good for European languages, but what about more distant ones?
How To Speak Many Different Languages
Want to turn your life into a linguistic juggling act?
Building a few simple habits can ensure that you enjoy all the benefits of a life full of languages down the road.
Heres how to speak many different languages without losing your mind along the way.
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Expand Your Vocabulary With Mnemonics
Rote repetition isnt enough.
And while its true that repeated exposure sometimes burns a word into your memory, it can be frustrating to forget a word that youve already heard a dozen times.
For this, I suggest coming up with mnemonics about your target word, which helps glue the word to your memory way more effectively. Basically, you tell yourself a funny, silly, or otherwise memorable story to associate with a particular word. You can come up with the mnemonic yourself, but a wonderful resource that I highly recommend is memrise.com.
For instance, lets say you are learning Spanish and cant seem to remember that caber means to fit, no matter how many times you see it. Why not come up with a clever association like the following one I found on Memrise:
This association makes remembering the word a cinch.
It may sound like a lengthy process, but try it a few times, and youll quickly realize why its so effective. And youll only need to recall this hook a couple of times, and then you can ditch it when the word becomes a natural part of your ability to use the language quickly.
Language And The Brain
In 2004, scientists were able to examine the brain of a German diplomat, Emil Krebs who learned and spoke 65 different languages in his lifetime. They wanted to confirm whether his language skills were due to a unique brain structure or not.
The part of the brain responsible for language is called the Brocas area. This is a region of the brain in the frontal lobe of the dominant hemisphere of your brain.
The scientists found that there were distinct differences in Krebs Brocas area, but were unable to determine if this difference was there from birth or if it grew that way from his language learning.
However, a more recent study in 2012 at Lund University in Sweden had more definitive results. The study pitted language students against a control group of students in other disciplines.
The two groups took part in an intensive foreign language-learning course and while it is not surprising that the language students were quicker to adapt to the course content, their brains were also scanned after the course and it showed that the part of the brain responsible for language actually expanded. This was not the case for the non-language students whose brain structure remained the same.
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Getting Over The Fear Of Speaking The Language
One of the biggest barriers to learning to speak a foreign language is your own confidence. Some people are naturally confident and have no problem with this but if this isnt you, youll need to work hard on overcoming the confidence barrier.
Firstly, think about why youve got the fear or anxiety of speaking. If you can figure it out, its much easier to be rational and put steps in place to overcome it.
Next, consider whats the worst that could happen by you speaking the language?
There are likely four things that could go wrong:
Theres no way of knowing if any of these things are going to happen. The only way you can move on from this fear is to understand that they happen to everyone and that theyre a normal part of learning a language.
Even though Im completely fluent in Spanish, every time I go on holiday to Spain and visit a tourist resort, people will still speak back to me in English. After all, they might just want to practise your language too!
Learn The Lyrics To Songs
I still remember some of the songs my French teacher taught me when I was 12. Scientists have discovered that the more musical you are, the more likely you are to get songs stuck in your head. So, if youre musical or forever getting earworms, listen to songs in the language youre learning!
Even if youre not musically minded, youve probably learnt the lyrics to thousands of songs in your lifetime. Theres just something about putting words to music that make them stick.
Learning the lyrics to songs in a foreign language is, therefore, a great way to learn new words and get speaking the language more fluently and more quickly.
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Find Someone To Learn And Speak With
If youre keen to progress faster, youre likely to do better if youve got someone else to learn alongside. Whether this is a formal arrangement in a class or just a friend whos keen to learn the language too, it will really help. With a language buddy, youll have someone to practise with.
Having a non-native speaker to practise with can be just as valuable as a native speaker because they are in the same position as you and will likely have made similar errors too. Its also much more fun doing it together!
Ways To Start Speaking
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How To Speak 8 Different Languages
Heres my take on learning foreign languages: its hard, but its doable.
After I returned from my first embassy experience in Nigeria where almost everyone speaks English my husband and I visited the bank where my mother-in-law worked. Some colleagues seemed really excited to talk to us because, when you work in a bank in Idaho, you dont meet diplomats every day.
As we shook everyones hands and fielded their questions, one man stood next to my husband and said: I think its incredible what you do, I mean, you speak like seven or eight different languages?
I kind of had to laugh at the idea that someone would think that we speak that many different languages. I mean, it takes months of intense practice to learn a language, and years to become fluent!
Fortunately, my husband handled the situation diplomatically. He thanked the man for his compliment and said that learning new languages was one of the things he enjoyed and appreciated most about his job. I think he even thanked the man for being a taxpayer, since its the US taxpayers that allow diplomats to do language training in the first place!
A decade of Foreign Service life later, though, my thoughts on this encounter have changed. The idea of speaking seven or eight different languages doesnt seem so ridiculous after all. By now, my husband is fluent in English, Dutch, Spanish and Armenian, and he could probably get by in a couple of other languages, including Farsi.
Learn To Sound More Native
At C2, you are as good as a native speaker in how you can work and interact in the language, but you may still have an accent and make the odd mistake.
I have been mistaken for a native speaker of my L2 several times , and I can say that its a lot less related to your language level, and more related to two other factors.
First, your accent/intonation
Accent is obvious if you cant roll your R in Spanish you will be recognized as a foreigner instantly.
Your tongue muscles are not set in their ways forever, and you can learn the very few new sounds that your L2 requires that you learn. Time with a native, a good Youtube video explaining the sounds, and practice for a few hours may be all that you need!
What is much more important, but often overlooked, is intonationthe pitch, rise, fall, and stress of your words. When I was writing my book, I interviewed fellow polyglot Luca who is very effective in adapting a convincing accent in his target languages. For this, intonation is pivotal.
Luca trains himself from the very start to mimic the musicality and rhythm of a languages natives by visualizing the sentences. For instance, if you really listen to it, the word France sounds different in I want to go to France and France is a beautiful country . When you repeat sentences in your L2, you have to mimic the musicality of them.
My own French teacher pointed out a mistake I was making along these same lines.
Second, walk like an Egyptian
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Have A Strong Tolerance For Ambiguity
You might be a bit shocked by the idea that a person can learn a new language to a conversational level in three months. For most of us, it takes much longer. Doesnt it?
Well, when asked what makes language learning take longer than it should or has to, Richards explains that language learners need to have a strong tolerance for ambiguity. This means you have to be okay with the millions of things you dont understand when learning a language.
If you get caught up by checking every single word in a text that you dont understand, its simply too inefficient and takes too much time.
But when you have a high tolerance for ambiguity, as good language learners do, you can be comfortable being a bit lost. By tolerating ambiguity, we liberate ourselves to keep to the fundamentals, while also being open and curious about the language to learn more.
The biggest mistake you can make is insisting on knowing everything.
Surround Yourself With A Likeminded Community
Procrastination is the enemy of language learning.
You really want to speak multiple languages? Then you must entrench the habit of language learning in your everyday life. Youâll need to set up rituals thatâll allow you to integrate language learning into your daily routine.Whatâs the secret to a persistent, daily habit? Accountability.
Rally a community around you â either of people who personally want you to succeed, or are working towards a similar goal themselves and youâll find that you push yourself, even when your willpower is flagging. Your community will encourage you to stay on task when youâre feeling disheartened or distracted.One way of keeping yourself accountable is to start a blog and tell everyone you know about it. Write regularly about your language learning â the highs and lows, whatâs working and what isnât. Likewise, you can always find help and guidance within the Fi3M forum.
Another option worth considering is the Add1Challange . Brian Kwong, founded the Add1Challenge after he recognised the merit in being part of community of learners that could support one another in working towards a common language goal. The Add1Challenge gives you 90 days to reach a level where you can have a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker of your target language. It includes a public accountability tracking sheet and community support to help motivate you to reach fluency as quickly as possible.
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Interact In Your Language Daily Without Traveling
Another reason people cite for not learning languages is that they cant visit a country where its a native language. No time, no money, etc.
Take it from methere is nothing in the air in another country that will magically make you able to speak their language. Ive done a lot of experiments to prove this .
Ive met countless expats who lived abroad for years without learning the local language. Living abroad and being immersed is not the same thing. If you need to hear and use a language consistently to be immersed, cant virtual immersion be just as effective? Of course. Technology makes it possible for immersion to come to you, and you dont even have to buy a plane ticket.
To hear the language consistently spoken, you can check out TuneIn.com for a vast selection of live-streamed radio from your country of choice. The app also has a list of streamed radio stations ordered by language.
To watch the language consistently, see whats trending on Youtube in that country right now. Go to that countrys equivalent URL for Amazon or Ebay and buy your favorite TV series dubbed in that language, or get a local equivalent by seeing whats on the top charts. You may be able to save shipping costs if you can find one locally that includes dubbing in the appropriate language. Various news stations also have plenty of video content online in specific languages, such as France24, Deutsche Welle, CNN Español, and many others.
Put Yourself Under Pressure: Set A Deadline
People sometimes fail at learning languages because they donât give themselves an achievable timeframe in which to reach fluency.
That means avoiding phrases such as: âOne day Iâll be able to speak my target languageâ. By framing your goal in that way, youâre reducing your incentive to learn.
Instead, give yourself a specific goal with a specific deadline .
When I first started learning languages, I often only had three months in whichever country I was living in due to visa restrictions. Being an Irish national, I was generally only allowed to spend a maximum of three months on a tourist visa in countries outside of the EU.
As a result, I typically had just three months to immerse myself in the local language. So, I gave myself the goal of reaching fluency in three months. This is a really lofty goal, so Iâd only have it if I could potentially work on the language half to full time.
Of course, when you set a timeframe for your learning, it can be more or less than three months. I only had one hour to study Polish before attempting to have a Polish conversation on iTalki. I ended up practising two hours in total, before arriving in Poland and having a chat in Polish with a native speaker!
You donât have to be living in a country where the language you are learning is spoken to be able to speak it yourself. I dispelled this myth when I learned Egyptian Arabic while living in Brazil.
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