Learning a language as an adult: a guide from the language experts

“Is it too late for me to learn a new language?”

“Won’t I find it harder to learn one as an adult?”

These sorts of questions naturally pop into your head when you consider mastering a second language at ‘insert-non-offensive-age-here’. But more often than not, the biggest obstacles standing in your way are doubts like these. Not your age.

Once you consider the cognitive benefits learning a foreign language can bring – combined with any other motivator you’ve got already for getting going – the decision becomes a no-brainer. Especially during a time when, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, indoor activities are king, and free time has become our new luxury.

As to how to quieten those unrelenting doubts in your mind? We’ve put together five language-learning lessons to keep in mind when embarking on your quest to mastering a new language. 

Love them. Live by them. We hope you enjoy them: 

Keep these 5 things in mind when learning a new language at home

1. You don’t need to repeat the methods you used in school

The way many of us studied a language in school – one or two hours per week, with lots of time filling in exercises in a textbook, was more a function of the crammed school curriculum, and the need for easy-to-mark exam papers than a true reflection of the way each of us learn best

Yet still, when the option to simply Google “English classes for beginners near me” is no longer on the cards, when many of us consider learning a new language from home, we turn to the methods we encountered in school, like buying a textbook.

I’d encourage you to break out of your old patterns of learning.

Instead, think about constructing a method of studying that works for you and increases the chances of you reaching your goals. 

For example our language-learning app Busuu’s Conversation feature is designed to give you one-to-one speaking practice and feedback, provided by our community of over 100 million native speakers around the globe.

2. Language learning is a marathon, not a sprint

There’s an idea that children are naturally good at learning languages, but think back to when you were a young child: you didn’t learn your native language in a few months. 

It came to you gradually over several years, and you were still learning it by the time you got to school. 

As adults, we learn new languages in different ways than when we were children, but you can still expect it to take you a number of years to get to a confident conversational level in a language (unless you are lucky enough to be able to do the full immersive experience in another country). 

As such, it’s best to prepare for the long haul from the beginning, rather than to expect great things in a short space of time.

Total study time of one hour a week consistently for two years will lead to much greater progress than three hours one week and then nothing the next. Steady, consistent practice with regular breaks will help you get to where you want to go. Busuu’s Study Plan feature will help you make regular study part of your schedule.


Psst: need some help creating and sticking to a learning schedule?

Language-learning app Busuu’s Study Plan feature helps you decide when you want to study, and for how long. Then it’ll send you notifications to keep on track. Interested?


3. Do more of what you enjoy

If you hate studying grammar, don’t punish yourself by doing lots of it. 

Spend 10 minutes reading an article or learning some new vocabulary, and then slot in 5 minutes of grammar at the end of your session, once you’ve warmed up.

4. Technology is a friend, not a foe – try live video tutoring platforms

While learning on your own can get you far, sometimes you’ll need a bit of help along the way. 

During times like these, this is where technology comes into play. Face-to-face lessons might not be possible right now, but here’s the good news: live tutoring platforms like Verbling can connect you with a host of qualified language teachers, who’ll be able to take you through everything from simple introductory phrases to tricky grammar topics, like the Spanish subjunctive and German pronouns.

Preparing for those daunting face-to-face interactions with a helping human hand is often just the thing you need to help you start losing your inhibitions and finding the confidence you need to dive straight into conversations with native speakers.

5. Build a language-learning strategy that’s unique to you

As an adult, chances are you know yourself much better than you did as a child. Use that knowledge to your advantage. 

If you like routine, schedule study sessions at regular times each week and stick to them. If you detest predictable schedules, then use the convenience of having the Busuu app on your mobile to practise when the mood strikes you.

If you’re confident and gregarious, send lots of friend requests to our Busuu community – there’s no limit on the number of friends you can make, or the number of exercises they can correct for you. 

If you’re more shy, focus on building up the basics in grammar and vocabulary first, and then try making friends when you feel ready.

Despite what you might have done in school, whether you’re discovering the best way to learn Spanish, French or German, or any other language, for that matter, make sure you choose the best method for you.

Use your knowledge of yourself to your advantage. Be aware that the best way for learning for you now might be very different from the approaches you’ve taken before.


We’re Busuu, an app that makes learning a language easier for everyone.

 Start building up your confidence and start learning with us today.


Kirsten is the Chief Learning Officer at Busuu, where she runs the team of learning designers who create Busuu’s courses, and the teacher operations team who look after our faculty of over 10,000 language teachers worldwide. Kirsten has spent over 20 years working in the field of digital language learning, creating websites, apps, video games and VR experiences for companies like Pearson, EF and Macmillan. She has an MSc in applied linguistics from the University of Oxford and is passionate about bringing research-informed pedagogy into the digital language learning experience.