Adults Can Learn New Languages

A little under two years ago I became a parent for the first time. As my daughter grows and learns, I have realised a key factor in language learning that most adults ignore:


Children seem to learn so much, so fast. But we forget how often they do everything. While attempting to master a task, my daughter will do it over and over and over, improving slightly sometimes, failing completely at others. And then she will return again later and go through it all again.

As adults, we feel strongly that what we already know is a good base to build new knowledge on and that we don’t need to go through all that repetition. And that is very simply not true. You do.

In my years of teaching business English in Amsterdam, I have seen a direct correlation with repetition and improvement. Clients who complete homework tasks, speak often in English and put in an extra effort, improve faster than those who don’t.

For adults, what this comes down to is available time. A baby has all the time in the world to sit doing the same small task over and over again. Most adults don’t think they do. I say don’t think they do because it is a matter of priorities.

How do you understand what a person’s real priorities are: look at where they invest their time. In Europe now, most adults spend around 2.5 hours a day on social media. Clearly, it is a massive priority for them. And yet, that is not what people say.

So, if learning ANY language is a real priority, time needs to be scheduled and used for that purpose. Attending a language course is only ever a part of the process. Time also needs to be scheduled for practice, research and homework.

One of the reasons why we are so at home in our mother tongue is because, on a certain level, we don’t have to think about HOW we say things.. we just focus on WHAT we want to say. This is because the HOW has been automated through years of habit and practice. When we switch over to a second language, we are thousands of hours behind in terms of practice and repetition.

If you want to approach something like fluency in a language, you simply have to put the hours in. If you look carefully at all these tips to ‘learn any language in 3 months,’ they all involve little tricks and hints that make you spend a lot of time with your target language.

It’s not that Adults can’t learn new languages, its that we struggle to prioritise enough time to practice enough to improve.

Taleninstituut Learning Tip:

If you want to learn or improve a second language. Sign up for a course. But also find movies/series to watch, books to read and native speakers to practice with. Identify regular practice time in your calendar and book it. 15 minutes of practice every day is valuable practice and will build your confidence to tackle more.

© Taleninstituut Nederland

By: David Chislett
Trainer Business English