By Gabriel Aubry on Jan 8, 2021 7:00:00 AM
Whether you are a first-year college student or on the verge of retirement, there is never a bad time to learn to speak English fluently. While children can develop perfect accents quickly, they are outperformed by adults in every other aspect of second language acquisition.
Is it really easier for children to learn a second language?
There is some controversy here, but also good news! It seems that adults of any age can speak a language fluently nearly as quickly as children. You can read more about this topic in “A Critical Period for Second Language Acquisition”, a paper published in the journal Cognition. This study aims to provide new insights into how we learn languages and into what impact age has.
Children’s brains have more plasticity, which allows them to acquire and organize new acoustic information easily. During the first months after birth, a child is receptive to every sound in human speech and until puberty, children are in a “critical period” where attempts to acquire new language skills are ultimately more successful.
Meanwhile, adults take more time to distinguish sounds they are unfamiliar with. Does this mean you are unable to learn past the age of 10? Absolutely not.
Thanks to advances in neurological science, we know that your mind expands every time you learn something new. You may enjoy reading, solving crossword puzzles or traveling. All those experiences shape your mind, even at an advanced age.
Every time information is processed, new channels, or synapses, are created in the brain. Synapses are circuits which allow you to access that bit of information in the future. By learning more about a language, for example by putting words into a sentence, you can put your knowledge into practice and avoid forgetting what you have learned.
One group of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh used an incremental method to teach Japanese speakers to distinguish between “L” and “R” sounds in English. Right and wrong answers were shown on the spot while exercises became increasingly more difficult. Within a one-hour training session, students could detect these differences with 80% accuracy even in rapid, slurred speech. Live feedback turns out to be a teacher’s secret weapon to help students improve faster.
Focus on Pronunciation
A good starting point is to perfect your pronunciation before engaging in more complex grammar and conversation. By sticking to the basics, you can improve detection of sounds in speech, making the difference between “right” and “light” if this was something you struggled with in the past. Though it may take more time, you will better understand others and improve your own speech.
Our pronunciation expert Lisa provides helpful explanations and pronunciation tips in our YouTube channel, as well as in our upcoming free webinar: Improve Your Pronunciation in English (sign up here).
Learn New Vocabulary in Context
When learning new vocabulary, focus on the subjects you are already familiar with. By doing this, you can reinforce the synapses you created when learning the basics. By talking about real life topics that matter to you, you will get more opportunities to practice and keep expanding your knowledge base.
We talk about this in our "Talaera Bit" Remember Vocabulary (a short episode, part of Talaera Talks podcast):
Accept that Everyone Has an Accent
It is fascinating to see adults push their own limits. Though your accent might never sound like a local, you will still be able to communicate clearly. Accent is very important to many, but it is not the benchmark of success learning a new language. Your accent is the mark of your past, and it shows you are making an effort to speak correctly, something locals truly appreciate.
Your mind is in constant growth, even when you least expect it. When you force yourself to think outside the box, that’s when things get interesting.
Learn Business English with Free Resources
Apart from this blog, Talaera keeps creating a collection of free resources for you to work on your business English, and these are our favorites:
If you're ready to take your professional English to a whole new level, check out all our business English programs or talk to sales (they will be your language consultants and will give you advice on how to maximize your English learning).
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For any additional information or questions, you can also reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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[Article Originally Published: Apr 25, 2017. Updated: Jan 8, 2021]