Learning a foreign language as an adult: my experience

best way for adults to learn a foreign language

Best way for adults to learn a foreign language

There are a lot of people who believe that it is not possible to learn a language as an adult. They think so because there are a lot of misconceptions about learning as an adult, for example, that the adult brain is no longer able to learn, that you can only do it if you live in the country, that it will take too long, that it is too difficult, etc.

I am however convinced that it is possible. And you will probably think: of course you say so considering your profession as I have been teaching Italian to adults for many years. But the interesting thing is that I’m not only convinced but I actually know that this is possible and this is because I have done it myself.

I was born in Italy and lived there until my late 20ies. Until I was 25 I didn’t know a word of English.

I of course knew that English was very important for my working career, whatever I was going to do, but I was busy at University and therefore I thought, I’ll do this later.

When later came I was already 25, I started going to a once a week class organised by the local library. When I started I remember that I had the impression to have been starving for it. Everybody seemed to speak it – although I didn’t know at what level - and references to it were everywhere. So I was hungry for it and therefore my motivation was sky-high. And interestingly enough it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t learn. Not because of arrogance but because everybody seems to be able to speak it and flaunt it and therefore I thought why not me?

I studied for two years going once a week to my class but this was not enough for me.

I would search out ways of learning outside of the class, reading anything that I came across, using my dictionary to extend my vocabulary and then record the family of words and how to use them in sentences. When after two years I travelled to London my English wasn’t particularly good but it was much, much better than when it was non-existent. After a short holiday, I went back to Italy. It took another two years before I actually moved to London for good and during those two years, I kept going to classes, researching, writing, etc to learn more and more. When I finally moved to London for good I had a good working knowledge of the language.

So my message is be hungry for it. Understand your motivation. Be confident: I have done it, so can you.

Don’t only rely on going to your class but try to find ways of working outside of it.

Motivation and fun: the crucial elements for learning a new language

how to motivate yourself to learn a new language

How to motivate yourself to learn a new language

Have you ever thought how great it would be to start learning a new language, but never really did anything about it?

Perhaps you were not sure where to start from or thought that you were never good at languages at school, or perhaps you have tried and have been disappointed.

I’m a teacher of Italian to adults at Parla Italiano, I have taught students for many years and I have noticed how many students have been surprised about how much methodology has moved on and now enables people to learn quicker, to really speak in the language and even to speak from lesson one. Long gone are the days when you needed to learn by heart words and conjugation without ever using them in class or even never utter a word.

In learning a language there are four different skills (speaking, listening, writing and reading) and each needs to be exercised in order to be learnt.

So if your main goal is to speak then your class should be mostly focused on enabling you to speak and provide you with opportunities for doing so. Therefore expect to do speak as much as possible in your class.

There are two elements that are crucial for learning: the first one is motivation.

Learning is a process and as with anything else, the more you put in and the more you get out. If you want to learn, first of all identify why you want to learn and then get specific, this will help to strengthen your will. For example, if your motivation is to be able to speak the language on holiday focus on this and specify to yourself exactly what you want to accomplish with it, what are the situations that you want to feel comfortable with the language, what level you would like to achieve, etc.

There are many different types of motivation, for example, understanding a new culture or being able to speak to family and friends or simply to socialise.

Whatever your goal is, there is now an added benefit recently proven by psychologists and linguists research. This is that learning a language is a true workout for the brain and that learning a new language changes your brain network both structurally and functionally. Like physical exercise, the more you use specific areas of your brain, the more it grows and gets stronger. This is why it is never too late to learn and it can be beneficial to the young as well as to the older students.

The second crucial element for learning is to have fun and be able to relax.

We know that the more people are able to lose themselves in the process then the more the brain is capable of absorbing and processing information. For example, a lesson could be aimed at having students play a chosen game in the target language. In order for the student to have fun, the teacher has to plan and carefully structured the lesson so that all the necessary language has been provided to enable the student to put it into practise and play. When somebody is absorbed by what they are doing they are able to relax and also speak without feeling so self-conscious.

Find your motivation and find a class that gives you a chance for fun and your doubts about learning will be a thing of the past.