5 tips on learning a new language as an adult

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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 best way to learn a language. Yet still, when many of us begin to learn a language as adults, we turn to the methods we encountered in school like buying a textbook and signing up to a big public class once a week.

busuu exists to help you break out of the old patterns of language learning, and to build a method of studying that works for you and increases the chances of you reaching your goals. For example, our Conversations exercises are designed to give you one to one speaking practice, with corrections just for you.

It’s 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 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, its 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 2 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 (iOS only for the moment) will help you make regular study part of your schedule.

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.

Use technology to build up your confidence

Don’t feel pressured to find a language partner straight away. busuu’s Conversations exercises and speech recognition tools will help you work up the courage to speak. Sometimes you need to work on your own for a while before you’re ready to practise with someone else face to face. But do make a plan for when you will start speaking! Setting a goal to practise simple introductory phrases with someone is a great way to get started on having a conversation. Each week, you can try to practise one or two more phrases.

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 takes 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 have. 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.

Remember, despite what you might have done in school, the best way to learn a language is the way that works for you, and that might be very different from the approaches you’ve taken before.

Start learning languages now!

Kirsten is the Head of Marketing at busuu. She is from the Scottish highlands where she grew up. She studied philosophy at university in Edinburgh and then got a TEFL certificate and went to China to teach English. She has been learning languages online and creating digital learning courses around the world for 17 years and is about to start studying for an MSc in Applied Linguistics for Language Teaching at Oxford University. Outside of work she is a yoga enthusiast and a keen gardener. She also loves spending time with her two border terriers!

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