Accelerating adult learning of languages (and other topics!)

I was recently asked by someone older how they could learn languages as an adult as quickly as children do.  They also asked if leaving the television or radio on in the background with a foreign language would be useful...?

Good news!  There are all kinds of ways to speed up learning, even with new languages.

While television may not provide the optimal way to learn another language, it does give people visual contexts in which to place various words.  That does have an impact.

Ergo tv is better than radio for learning foreign languages, because you have potentially a LOT more information from which to learn how to understand/speak another language.

But it's probably far better to get a great CD audio program or podcasts on a foreign language than it would be to listen to the radio.  Then play those audios over & over again in the background, both when you have time to speak along with them as well as when you don't.

And a good learning program for TV/video/dvd is still much better than a good learning program from a book or audio-only.  The more forms of media, the more sensory systems involved, the better.

Bottom line, you can always learn.  Yes, since you're older than a child, it may take some work; it'll certainly take a bit more work than kids have to put in, but so what!

  • Use as many sensory systems involved as you can (i.e. TV/DVD/Video is better than audio only)
  • Take hourly breaks from more intense study sessions for at least 5-10 minutes to get movement into your body so as to integrate the skills into your neurology more effectively
  • Play 60 beat-per-minute music behind that in an ipod or CD player if you can (this keeps you in an optimal learning state)
  • Make sure the speakers are interesting, with active tonal shifts, and not boring.  Then reproduce those same shifts in your own voice.
  • Play these when you're awake, and play them when you're asleep.  
  • Attach pleasure to confusion.  Push past basic understanding towards confusion.  Confusion is a GREAT indication that you've acquired a lot and are busy integrating it.  Confusion should tell you to keep doing whatever drills you were doing when you started getting confused -- NOT walk away!

If you utilize most of the above accelerated learning strategies, you will notice far more rapid results than lots of people would expect from "an old dog trying to learn new tricks."

Lastly, stay with it -- set up the above, keep it going, and trust that results will be forthcoming -- sometimes in steady ways, sometimes not for a while then all of a sudden, whoosh!