In June, I had dinner at a friend’s house with him and his family here in London. When I arrived, his daughter stood there looking at me, hanging on to her mother. After ten minutes, my friend said to her: ‘Go on Laura, didn’t you say you were going to talk to him in Spanish?’.
Laura turned around and peeked through her mother’s arms. I went over to her and said that I would love to talk to her in Spanish.
To get her to speak, I told her that I couldn’t understand anything anyone else was saying. I asked her if she could translate for me.
And then Laura whispered her first sentence in Spanish: ‘Quieren que te hable en español’, she said. Her pronunciation was perfect!
My friend told me that the whole family was surprised. Only the girl’s aunt spoke Spanish. The rest of the family had no idea!
The girl had learnt by watching Spanish cartoons. She also played video games in other languages on her dad’s iPad.
When she’s older she wants to be a Spanish teacher and a vet, she told me. I said she could start teaching Spanish now. Her family wanted to learn!
But she told me that everyone thought, ‘they were too old to learn a new language.’ ‘It’s very hard to learn once you get to our age,’ my friend added, confirming what Laura had said.
Adults can learn languages more quickly than children
A large percentage of adults believe that children learn languages more easily and more quickly than them.
But, according to research carried out by the University of Haifa in Israel, this could be a myth.
According to the researchers, it’s the other way round: it’s actually easier for an adult to learn a language.
The reason for this is very simple: it’s easier for adults to learn the rules of a new language. Children, whilst they can absorb a new language quickly, make a lot of mistakes because they don’t understand the rules.
Why don’t adults learn languages more quickly?
The difference between children and adults is that children aren’t afraid of making mistakes. What’s more, children are continually learning because they get instant feedback – when they make a mistake, adults correct them on the spot.
Adults, on the other hand, are afraid of making mistakes and often reject the criticisms and opinions of others. This makes learning a language a slower, more difficult process.
Additionally, when a child learns a language, it’s like a game; it’s a process of discovery. But for adults, learning a language can be something they are forced to do.
What can you do to learn a language more quickly than a child?
1. Focus more on discovering a language and less on learning it: don’t think about how difficult and boring it is to memorise all of the tricky verbs and adjectives. Discover new vocabulary by watching films, playing video games or reading articles that you like.
2. Making mistakes is normal and it’s silly not to want to correct them: practise as much as you can and allow yourself to make mistakes. Ask other people to correct you and thank them when they do – they’re doing you a favour! Always have a notebook and pen with you so you can write down any mistakes you make.
3. Motivation will be your ally in achieving success: in our article ‘How to stay motivated when learning languages’, we talk about the different kinds of motivation. Identify what motivates you, set yourself a goal and don’t stop until you reach it.
And if you think that’s not enough, and you need lessons, then just let me know: Laura is looking for students ;).
By Jonay Suárez, Head of Marketing at Wibbu.