Have you ever wondered why children seem to learn languages more easily than adults? Do you feel frustrated when you try to learn a new language and struggle with grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary? If so, you are not alone. Many adults face difficulties when learning a new language, especially if they start later in life. But why is that? And what can you do to improve your language skills?
The Brain Difference Between Children and Adults
The answer lies in the way our brains work. According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), children and adults use different brain mechanisms for language acquisition. Children rely on an implicit (unconscious) memory system that allows them to absorb language rules and patterns through passive exposure, without much effort or awareness. Adults, on the other hand, rely on an explicit (conscious) memory system that requires more attention, effort, and awareness to learn new information.
This difference has important implications for language learning. Children can learn languages more naturally and effortlessly because they use their implicit memory system, which is more flexible and adaptable to new situations. Adults, however, have to use their explicit memory system, which is more rigid and prone to interference from prior knowledge. For example, adults often tend to translate from their native language when learning a new language, which can lead to errors and confusion.
Tips for Learning a New Language as an Adult
So, does this mean that adults are doomed to fail at learning languages? Not at all! It just means that they have to use different strategies and methods than children. Here are some tips that can help you learn a new language more effectively as an adult:
- Use immersive learning methods. One of the best ways to learn a new language is to expose yourself to it as much as possible, in different contexts and situations. This can help you activate your implicit memory system and mimic the way children learn languages. You can do this by watching movies or TV shows in your target language, listening to podcasts or music, reading books or articles, or joining online communities or forums where you can interact with native speakers.
- Focus on communication rather than perfection. Another advantage that children have over adults is that they have fewer inhibitions and are more willing to make mistakes and sound foolish. This can help them learn faster and better because they are not afraid of trying new things and getting feedback. As an adult, you should try to overcome your fear of failure and focus on communicating your message rather than being perfect. You can do this by practicing speaking with a tutor, a friend, or a language exchange partner, and asking for corrections and suggestions.
- Use spaced repetition and review. While implicit memory is more efficient for language learning, explicit memory can also be useful if used correctly. One of the best ways to use your explicit memory system is to review what you have learned regularly and at spaced intervals. This can help you consolidate your knowledge and prevent forgetting. You can do this by using flashcards, apps, or online tools that use spaced repetition algorithms to help you remember words and phrases better.
- Have fun and enjoy the process. Finally, one of the most important factors that can affect your language learning success is your motivation. If you are motivated, focused, and patient, you can achieve amazing results regardless of your age. And one of the best ways to stay motivated is to have fun and enjoy the process. You can do this by choosing topics that interest you, playing games or quizzes, watching comedy shows or cartoons, or learning songs or poems in your target language.
Learning a new language as an adult can be challenging but not impossible. By understanding how your brain works and using the right strategies and methods, you can improve your language skills and achieve your goals. Remember that language learning is a lifelong journey that can enrich your life in many ways. So don’t give up and keep learning!