Picking up a new language as an adult can seem daunting – all those verbs to learn, new vocabulary, shaping your mouth in weird and wonderful ways to make new sounds – where will you find the time? Although it undoubtedly requires time and effort, learning a new language can be enjoyable and rewarding, and I’m here to show you how to get started.
The first, and most important step, on your journey to fluency is deciding exactly how you are going to learn your chosen language: will you do it with an app? Are you going to attend group lessons? Do you need a 1-to-1 tutor? This decision is mostly based on how you feel you learn best and, of course, your budget. I personally find that the interaction and knowledge you get from either group classes or tuition cannot be replicated online, or through an app, and you might also make some new friends along the way! Shop around, and don’t be afraid to test a few classes and teachers before settling with one that suits you best – channel Goldilocks with her porridge!
Once you’ve settled on a learning method, consistency is key. As I’ve mentioned before, language learning is a cumulative skill, meaning that it needs constant practice and reinforcement for it to settle into our brains – especially as we get older. As children, language learning is an automatic, almost innate process, in any tongue, but as the years pass and our brains become accustomed to our mother tongue, implanting a new one into our hardwiring takes a bit of effort. It is entirely possible though, and with practice such as learning a set number of new words a week, or conquering a certain tense by the end of the month, you’ll be well on your way to conquering Cantonese, Catalan or Czech!
Setting goals is also very important when it comes to perfecting your parlance. Whether it be ordering your favourite meal on holiday in Spain, or acing a work presentation in Paris, having something to aim for with give your learning process structure, and will provide you with motivation to keep going, even when verb endings are driving you crazy. Be sure to inform your teacher of your aims, as the more they know about why your learning a language, the better equipped they’ll be to help you achieve your goals.
Although this may hark back to your school years, regular testing while you’re learning can help to show you how much you’re learning, and provide ample motivation to keep going. So often with language learning it can feel like climbing an ever-growing mountain, with fluency a distant dream at the top. Small tests set by your teacher, or done online, can provide proof of how far you’ve come, and flag up areas that you may need to work on, such as grammar or vocabulary. Remember, mistakes are a normal part of learning, and the biggest mistake we can is not learning from them.
For me, knowing why you’re learning a new language, and how you’re going to learn it best, are the two most important factors when picking up a new skill in adulthood. The biggest and bravest step is deciding to learn a new language in the first place, so once you’re over that hurdle, then goal setting and perseverance will be your best travelling buddies on the road to fluency. If time and money allow, then surrounding yourself with people whose mother tongue is your chosen language, or travelling to your target country, will serve to speed up the process and immerse you in the culture that surrounds your new language. Above all, take your time and enjoy the process – it’ll be worth it in the end!