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Learning a Language as an Adult

 18 January 2021 

Learning a language as an adult may be difficult and the reason it's harder is because, as adults, we aren't as much of a 'sponge' as children. I read online that children have a cognitive advantage when learning a language since babies and young children form neural connections at a rapid pace. As we get older, the the brain develops and it becomes more specialised, reinforcing the neural pathways that are regularly used, therefore making it more challenging to learn a brand new language.

Everyone has different reasons for wanting to learn a language. It could be that you need to learn it for business, family, a relocation to a non english speaking country, or maybe you're trying to learn your partner's first language. Learning any language brings you closer to another culture, it deepens your understanding of the people who speak that language and makes it much less likely that you'll experience cultural based conflict.

According to FSI, it will take you about 480 hours to have essential fluency in group one language and up to 720 hours for groups 2, 3, and 4 languages. Fluency is achievable if you put in 10 hours daily to learn this language. That's a hell of a lot of time and if you don't have that time it will, naturally take much much longer. But if you did, somehow, dedicate 10 hours a day to learning then it means that it could take 48 days to learn an 'easy language' and 72 days for a difficult language. 

What do I need to do to speed it up?

Go an extra mile

As an adult, you might feel like you want to push yourself rather than wait for others to tell you what to do. It totally depends on your goals and your why. One proven, effective method for achieving fluency in any language is listening to music. One thing I love doing is playing Greek music at home and I often google the lyrics and read along as the song plays. You can choose your favourite genre and follow the lyrics and if you feel like, sing along! 

One celebrity who admitted learning a language through music is the legendary Jackie Chan. He would listen to English singers and try to sing along. His English is perfect, and it doesn't matter if you have an accent. A couple of students of mine who I have coached with UK drama school auditions often expressed how desperate they were to rid themselves of their accents. It feels like a shame and i'd often tell them to think of all the iconic actors that speak English as a second language. I think people are better off embracing it, since it's part of their identity and it tells a story.

Practise makes perfect

Listening and reading sometime's aren't enough. The best way to improve a language is to start speaking. Of course it depends on your goals, mine are to speak and hold conversations confidently and fluently. So there really is no point in memorising grammar tables or swallowing an entire dictionary if my goal is to communicate through speaking. Practise makes progress, and then continual progress makes perfection!

At first the mistakes will make you judge yourself, and I think it's important that as adult learners we allow ourselves to mess up, becuase it's going to happen. In that sense, we have to embrace our inner child as a child would not judge themselves if they messed up. Kids really do have the whole language thing a lot easier!! When this happens, do not give up but continue building on your confidence and fluency. For my Greek, I practice with George from Language for Life and Business, a school that doesn’t feel like school since it's over Skype and it just feels like chatting to a friend.

Make it a priority

For me, I haven't 'studied' anything for years. I'm 27 and I didn't go to university so i've forgotten what homework feels like. The last time I put my head down to study was then I was ten years ago, doing my A Levels. Looking back, I have no idea how I did it. So unless you're extremely disciplined, the solo study time might feel like a challenge. You have to remember your why. What will change if you commit? Whatever it is, introduce some sense of urgency in your lessons and solo study, do not just sit there and wait for miracles because I can tell you they won't happen.

Online classes are a great place to start, also some form of accountability really helps me. I have a habit tracker, so after each day, I tick off if i've done any Greek that day at all. It could be a phone call with my Dad, it could be translating a song or watching an episode of Spongebob Squarepants in Greek. Anything! Make it fun and it will be so worth it.

Bottom Line

As much as you want to put in more effort and spend solo time in knowing a language, you never get a better classroom than spending time with native speakers. If you have family or friends that speak the language then this is a huge advantage. Otherwise, leverage social media and various apps that connect you with natives! Best of luck.

xoxo

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Lia Hatzakis
Hiya! I’m Lia, a British born Greek-Cypriot youtuber and actress living in West Sussex, UK. Welcome to my blog! I share my life stories, recipes, travel guides and outfits. Expect lots of ramblings and cups of tea.

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