learning method

3 Characteristics that Make You the Perfect Language Learner

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It is a common thought that the best time to learn a foreign language is as a child. But how true is this statement? And how can we manage learning a foreign language as adults?

We can always learn

Exposure to a foreign language during the first ten years of life, without any doubt, leads to a very high rate of success. But this statement must be followed by a number of considerations. First of all, consideration should be given to what recent studies on neurolinguistics have highlighted: Age doesn’t matter when you want to learn a new language.

Even though the human brain changes over the years, it can always learn a new linguistic system. That being said, it is clear that some important differences remain, but younger people are not better at everything. Let's see the characteristics that make an adult the ideal learner:

1) Learning speed.

A very common mantra says that children learn faster than adults when it comes to learning a new language. Some research has led to an almost opposite outcome. Children reach higher levels of competence for longer periods of exposure to L2, but in the short term, they are overtaken by adults. What does this mean? It means that if an adult and a child start learning a foreign language, the adult will reach the basic level faster.

The reason is that an adult has a deeper cognitive complexity and a deeper linguistic awareness. It sounds absurd, but it’s true. On the other hand, when we talk about bilingual people, we consider people who are exposed to two linguistic systems from birth to maturity and, therefore, people who have experienced languages for 15 years or even more. And what happens in the case of a child who is exposed to a foreign language for a couple of years at most? Are we sure he will remember more than an adult who has studied a language for 2 years?

2) There is not just pronunciation

We all know (and it is impossible to deny) how a child can acquire the phonological apparatus of a language. All studies have shown that phonology is the most sensitive aspect with regard to the learner's age: there is a time limit after which it is difficult to acquire the native pronunciation of a second language. But we have to consider two aspects. The first is that it is more difficult but not impossible. The second is that it is not only about pronunciation. Failing to acquire native accent does not affect your ability to communicate in L2. I don’t know what you think, but I find it very funny listening to those who speak Italian with English or Spanish accent. And even if I don’t realize it, I'm sure that I speak English with a marked Italian accent. The fact is, who cares? It's part of my identity and I'm not ashamed of it. On the other hand, realizing my grammar mistakes is something that worries me. But here's the good news: according to the modern psycholinguistics, morphology, syntax, and vocabulary can be acquired at all ages and often even more successfully by adults.

3) Motivation.

Opera

Opera

To get good results, you know, you have to be motivated. And in this regard, adults can only have an extra kick. Children have an advantage when L2 is learned in a natural context: they move to a new country and speak two languages, one at home and the other at school. They are driven by the desire to interact with their peer group. When they are not faced with a socialization need, they do not perceive the usefulness or the importance of knowing one or more foreign languages. Often, the learn other languages s a result of the parents’ choice or because they are provided by the school curriculum.
For an adult, the situation is different. An adult learns Italian for a specific reason he knows well and which will be the basis for all his progress. As far as I'm convinced that it's always a need and never just a pleasure, you do not study Italian just because it's a musical language, but because you are planning to move to Italy because of your Italian origin, or you are fascinated by the language and culture of your grandparents. It could also be that you are keen on cooking or you are interested in classical music and want to know more. Language is always a means. We would not learn a new language if ours allowed us to do everything we wanted.

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Advantages of learning a foreign language

The advice to start studying a language as a child is not because you can no longer learn but because there are some skills that, if acquired as a child, can be improved with less effort.
Having said that, it makes no sense to put the ideal native speaker as the point of arrival. Consider, for example, that almost nobody in Italy has a perfect pronunciation. Just communication professionals: radio or TV journalists and actors. All the others carry their regional accent. When you learn a foreign language as an adult, your identity is well respected and your language skills are enriched to interact, travel, create relationships, and know the world.
Each new L2 you experience (even at very low levels) improves the linguistic system as a whole, with positive implications also for your mother tongue. No effort is wasted, even if it does not lead to full ownership of the language that you chose to learn.

Language is something that requires daily practice. Obviously, the earlier you start, the best results you’ll get. But more than just the age when you started learning a language, it is important not to give up.

 

WANT TO LEARN QUICKLY? IMITATE A PARROT!

Learning a new language has always been a fascinating but long and difficult journey. It is, first and foremost, a challenge with ourselves, our memory and our ability to adapt and reorganize our thoughts in new cognitive structures.

When we face with something we do not know (i.e. a new language or a new skill like decorating with decoupage) the fastest way to master it, is not to appeal to our creativity but rather to our emulative instinct. So do not be afraid to be blamed for plagiarism: copy, imitate and repeat everything you want to learn until you will have overcome it. In a nutshell, imitate a parrot!

THE BEST WAY TO TAKE NOTE AND TRAIN YOUR MEMORY

It used to be a moleskine, a pen, curiosity to jot down new words and perseverance to repeat them during spare time. But as digital animals, I will recommend you to keep curiosity and perseverance and throw off pen and paper. On Google Play and on App store you will find a simple, intuitive and particularly suited to modern parrots aspirants app: Teach Pablo.

CREATE AND SHARE YOUR WORD LISTS FOR FREE

Teach Pablo is a free app that allows anyone to take note of new words and expressions on their smartphones. It's like taking your moleskine without the hassle to carry it in your pocket. But not only. It is a simple memory task application enriched with some options: in addition to writing the word and its translation, you can also record a short audio to remember the pronunciation and, also, you can decide whether:

1 – to study alone;

2 -  to share your lists with a partner or a teacher who works with us to the list’s construction and improvement;

3 – share your own list as locked content (and this is especially useful for language teacher or coach).

IS VOCABULARY ENOUGH TO LEARN A LANGUAGE?
Of course not. Vocabulary is just one of many skills that we need to acquire in language learning. However, exercise your memory to remember words and phrases is an essential step. To paraphrase Stephen Krashen, when you visit a foreign country, usually you bring a dictionary, not a grammar book.

ARE YOU WONDERING HOW TO START?

Teach Pablo allows high customization but if you do not know how to start or you want simply to have some basic vocabulary lists to help you in various situations, take a look at the material that I have prepared for you. Ready-prepared lists divided by communicative contexts with also Italian and English pronunciation. Easy, right?