So, why aren’t more of us multilingual? There are dozens of decent answers but a common retort doesn’t have much merit at all: the idea that adults, just can’t learn languages as easily as children can.
Cildren tend to pick up new languages quickly and easily, it has more to do with how they learn than how old they are. Kids absorb and infer lots of information about language simply by listening to family, friends, teachers and the media around them.
By contrast, adults tend to learn in rigid academic settings where they have little say in what they study and where the stakes are also higher.
There is no magical point at which it becomes impossible to learn a new language
If you dream of being bilingual, your age does not disqualify you. Make the process more fun—and, by extension, more successful—with these tips:
Wish you had paid more attention in high school Spanish? Consider why you didn’t. Perhaps all you wanted out of the class was a good grade, or to fulfill a graduation requirement. Linguists call these incentives “extrinsic motivators,” but the most successful language students are “intrinsically” motivated, sincerely invested in their own learning. So pick a language you are excited to use, whether on a grand vacation or on your couch watching foreign-language soap operas.
It might take some trial and error, but you’ll figure out which resources work best for you. Mobile apps such as Duolingo and Babbel gamify your learning, so if you could easily spend hours playing on your phone, you’ll likely find these similarly addictive. Others such as Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur are less gimmicky but more rigorously researched.
Consider a conversation-based class on Italki or Idlewild. And don’t neglect books. McGraw Hill and Barron’s offer excellent textbooks, grammar guides and workbooks with answer keys to let you see how you’re doing.
Immerse yourself in your chosen language as much as you can. Watch movies or listen to songs, even if they are just on in the background. Periodically look around you and see how many things you can name in the language you’re studying. Or, better yet, label items around your home with those words. You’ll have no choice but to see them and, in very little time, learn them.
Practicing with other people helps solidify what you’ve already learned and makes you more aware of which ideas you’re able to express. These need not be native speakers you chat with, though various websites and apps such as languageexchange.com, HelloTalk and TalkAbroad can connect you with some, either free or for a small fee.
Sometimes you’ll miss the mark as you unknowingly stumble on an irregular verb or an exception to the rule. But more often you’ll be right. And even when you do falter, those who are fluent should still be able to understand what you mean.
It seems counterintuitive, but you’re more receptive to pick up on language patterns when you aren’t hyperfocused on learning them. So rather than stare intently at a vocabulary list when learning, glance over the words while you listen to instrumental music. Or turn on subtitles in the language you’re learning even as you watch TV in English. Don’t devote your full attention to them—just enjoy the show and absorb what you can. The less you stress, the more you’ll be able to learn.
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Learn a second or third language will bring some advantages. Bilingual brains are better shielded against cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. And according to a poll conducted by the language app Babbel, knowing multiple languages can make you more attractive. Here's some tips to do it easier.
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