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5 Tips for Learning a New Language as an Adult

Aug 2023

Language ,

As we grow older and become more established as adults, with a regular income and autonomy over how we spend our free time, we tend to travel more. 

Travel also tends to invite frustration over not having learned a language as a youngster, or not having a parent from another culture to teach you a second language.

So each time you arrive home from another city break where you struggled to chat to locals, you find yourself asking “how hard is it to learn a new language as an adult?”.

Which is why our team at Global Language Services want to explore just how difficult it is to learn a new language as an adult, tips on how to do it and some resources to get you started.


Is it Hard to Learn a New Language as an Adult?

When it comes to answering the question of “is it hard to learn a new language as an adult?” there is no straight answer.

First of all, a huge range of scientific studies in this area have concluded that; yes, it is harder to learn a language as an adult. There are a huge number of reasons for this, with psychoanalyst Norman Doidge suggesting one reason being that there is a critical period in which people should learn a language, which exists from infancy and ends in puberty.

A second suggested reason is that the longer you speak a single language and establish it as your mother tongue, the harder it can be to train your mind to learn a new language as a separate entity. In fact, it is quite common for adults who are learning a new language to associate a word in the new language with a word or phrase in their 

native language.

In addition to this, another study conducted at Harvard concluded that the three main reasons that attribute to the difficulty of learning a new language as an adult include:

  • Social and societal changes experienced as an adult
  • Brain development
  • Continued interference from an adults primary language

Contrastly, we have discovered some online forums where some adults who have actively learned a second language discussed the difficulties they faced. With some reasons including lack of time, lack of discipline or doing it because they feel they “have to” as opposed to enjoyment. However, some comments debunked theories of difficulty by saying that because we have discipline and can apply structure to learning, we can in turn make it easier for ourselves.

We therefore think that it is a fair conclusion to say that yes, it is harder to learn a new language as an adult, but not impossible. 


How long does it take to learn a new language? 

Of course for the majority of people who decide to learn a new language their first question is “how long is it going to take?”.

For some this may be a determining factor for whether they pursue the language or not. But unfortunately no matter what language you choose to learn, you will be required to dedicate a significant amount of time and effort into learning it.

It has been reported by various sources that in order to gain a basic understanding of a language, you will need to study for 480 hours, which equates to roughly 5 hours every day for 16 weeks.

Yes, we can appreciate that this sounds like a lot. But, if you put it into the perspective of how many hours you speak your own language every day, it makes total sense.

If you ever want to be completely fluent in reading, writing and speaking a language, it will likely take you over a year of studying. Plus, we must mention that some languages are more complex than others, such as Korean or Japanese that can take over 2000 hours of studying to achieve an advanced understanding.


Benefits of Learning a New Language as an Adult

Now, we hope that if you’re an adult that is reading this that you haven’t been put off by the amount of time learning a new language takes. It takes an almighty amount of time and dedication, but the benefits of learning a new language are tenfold.

Some of the benefits of learning a new language include:

  • Greater career and business opportunities
  • Expands your knowledge, perspective and understanding of a culture
  • Opens you up to building connections and friendships with people who also speak the language
  • Improves overall brain health, helping with memory and preventing diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Many hands together: group of diverse people joining hands


Tips for Learning a New Language as an Adult

We’re language learning experts here at Global Language Services and over the years we have supported a number of adults who have embarked on their language learning journey.

So we’ve amassed a number of handy tips that will help you learn a new language as an adult:

1. Know your Learning Style

The first tip we have to help you be successful in learning a new language is to know your learning style. As an adult hopefully this is something you have already established, and know whether you are more of a visual, auditory, kinesthetic or reading/writing learner.

Ensuring you know your learning style is key to your success in learning a language, as it will help you absorb the information in a way that’s most beneficial to you.


2. Set Achievable Goals and Track Progress

As we mentioned, learning a language can be all encompassing and time consuming. The best way to tackle this is to create achievable goals and hold yourself accountable for your own time, as you are responsible for the success of learning a language. 

Your goals can be as simple as “learning five new words each day and then use them in a sentence”, or as complex as you like, but we feel this is the best way to stay consistent and see results.


3. Find what works

While you progress through your language learning journey you will hopefully notice what works for you and what doesn’t. 

If you have tried and tested the listen and repeat method but realised that none of the information is actually going in, then recognise this and approach learning in a new way until you figure out what works best for you. 

As learning a new language can be uncharted territory for lots of people, you may find that you will have to adapt your learning style as you go to ensure that you absorb the new language in the most effective way. 

Most importantly, you have to find a way that makes learning engaging, enjoyable and interesting for you. If your learning style isn’t working you begin to feel like this new language is a chore and as a result you may give up, which is not what we want!


4. Learn from Setbacks

Learning a new language is time consuming and can be quite frustrating at the best of times, but you can’t let this set you back.

Appreciate that you won’t be fluent in Spanish overnight or holding conversations with your Japanese colleague after a week of studying. It takes time and there will be words, phrases and pronunciations that you will get wrong, but don’t let this put you off!

Persevere and learn from these errors, because at the end of the day it will make you stronger at speaking your language. 


5. Don’t be shy

Our final tip may be considered to be slightly rogue in comparison to the others, but the best thing to do is to not be shy.

Practise your Japanese with your colleague! Engage in conversation with your Spanish neighbour! Order your meal in Italian at your local restaurant! 

The best way to learn your new language is to practise so don’t be shy to take your new phrases out for a spin! There’s nothing to be afraid of, and we guarantee you that your colleague, neighbour or waiter will appreciate the effort you make.


Resources to Support Learning a New Language as an Adult

At Global Language Services we provide translation services and support language learning, and as such have created a plethora of language learning resources, such as:


Learning languages at an early age does not only bring linguistic benefits. It can also enhance core cognitive skills, including reasoning, problem solving, and memory, along with improving communication and intercultural skills.

But, these benefits also ring true for an adult!

Yes it may seem like a difficult task, and you may find excuses not to learn a new language such as lack of time or “when would I actually use it?”. But in spite of all that we here at Global Language Services, aim to encourage everyone of any age to learn a new language. 

With the right tools and some dedication, learning any new language as an adult can be easy. 

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