Learning a new language

There are many examples of people who pick up a language later in life. Our ability to learn new vocabulary appears to remain constant, but most of us will not be able to master grammar like a native speaker.

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Research shows that children are proficient at learning a second language up until the age of 18, roughly ten years later than earlier estimates. It also shows that it is best to start another language by age ten if you want to achieve the grammatical ability of a native speaker.

There are three possible reasons why the ability to learn a language decreases at 18.

  • Social changes: At 18, late teens typically graduate high school and may no longer have the time, opportunity or learning environment to study a second language.
  • Interference: The rules of a first language may interfere with the ability to learn a second language.
  • Continuing brain development: Changes in the brain that continue during the late teens and early 20s may make learning harder.

Research shows that people who learn via immersion are notably more fluent in a foreign language than those who are learning it in a class. If you have the choice between starting language lessons earlier or learning through immersion later, an immersion environment seems to be better.

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RELATED IDEAS

  • Don't wait too long before you start practicing. Most people find it uncomfortable to speak a language poorly and avoid it. Don't think you will wait until you're "ready".
  • Going from zero to 100% will require some preparation. 25 - 50 hours are usually enough for a European language, 100 hours for harder Asian languages.

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IDEAS

A will to start and self-confidence is necessary as is having the courage to speak, and not being afraid of making mistakes. The key is to immerse yourself and put your whole being to the task.

Total immersion necessitates activities like listening to the radio station of the language you are learning, reading and speaking to people.

Cognates are “true friends” of words you recognize from your native language that mean the same thing in another language.

For instance:

  • Words like Action, nation, precipitation, solution, frustration, 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 (Greek/Latin or other) root.
  • Even languages as different as Japanese can have heaps of very familiar vocabulary.

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