Want to learn a new language, but afraid you’ve passed the right time?
Even though brain science says it’s easier to learn a second or even a third language when you’re a child, it doesn’t matter because we have some cool brain hacks to help you learn a new language at any age.
Or learn anything else, for that matter.
Thanks to your brain’s neuroplasticity, you have all the tools you need to continue learning throughout your life.
All you need are the right tools, and a good understanding of how your brain works.
How Does Your Neuroplasticity Help You Learn New Languages?
Imagine you start playing a new video game, with unfamiliar controls.
After a while playing, if you keep at it, you get used to them, right?
The same goes for when you move to a new house or apartment.
You might find yourself getting a bit lost sometimes, but over time, you won’t even be thinking when moving from room to room.
How about those miracle stories you hear about someone recovering from a serious brain injury?
Gabby Giffords, an American politician who suffered a gunshot to the head, was able to recover her ability to read, speak, write, walk and more despite how severe her injury was.
This is all thanks to neuroplasticity.
Your brain is made up of billions of neurons.
When you learn something new, your brain creates neural connections to store this knowledge.
The more you encounter this knowledge – by practicing it, reviewing it and applying it – the more your neurons activate.
When your neurons fire together, the stronger the neural connections in your brain become. And the longer-term your memory and efficiency with that skill or knowledge gets.
And this is exactly why you’re never too old to learn another language!
Let’s get started on those tips! You can check out more faster learning language tips in the 10 day course, Total Recall Learning here.
5 Tips for How to Learn a New Language
1. Learn How to Tell Sounds Apart
This is because you’re trying to make sounds that don’t exist in your native language.
As you grow older and get used to your native language, your brain filters out the neural associations you’d have used to tell apart the sounds that you don’t encounter or use often.
But thanks to neuroplasticity, you can learn how to recognize and tell apart these sounds and leave your accents behind!
Linguists recommend listening and speaking activities to tell the sounds making up a different language apart.
You might confuse certain sounds with others. A non-English speaker might, for example, confuse the sounds for “taught” and “thought”, or “tree” and “three.”
Minimal pair training is one way of practicing to recognize and differentiate these similar sounds.
You listen to the word with the sound difference and try to figure out which one you think it is.
Because you get immediate feedback by checking your answer afterwards, the more you practice, the more your brain encounters the sound difference.
The more it encounters this sound difference, the easier it becomes for your brain to tell these sounds apart!
Remember, practicing and reviewing helps strengthen the neural connections associated with this specific knowledge!
2. Practice Mouth Positions
The more you practice the new mouth positions you need to pronounce certain words, the more your brain notes the experience of where your tongue, teeth and lips would be, and how your muscles move.
The more you practice, the more your brain grows accustomed to these mouth positions.
Soon enough, your mouth will naturally move to the right position when pronouncing words from a different language!
3. Use Visual Memory Eye Positions to Recall Vocabulary
When you move your eyes to the top left or the top right, it helps you unlock your visual memory.
Visualization is one of the golden learning strategies I always recommend to recall anything – including vocabulary in a different language – faster.
The brain can remember and process images tens of thousands of times faster than strings of words.
Imagine you’re trying to memorize a bunch of words in a different language.
Ultimately, because your brain can’t make sense of the strings of seemingly random letters, you’re more likely to forget what you’re memorizing.
On the other hand, when you visualize what you’re learning, you’re creating a mental movie of the word and its meaning in your head.
This happens because of associations – your brain learns best by connecting something new to something you already know.
So, say for example one of the words you need to learn is the French word for “cat” – chat.
Since this word is spelled like the English word “chat”, meaning to have a conversation with someone, think of an image of a cat on a phone chat.
Isn’t that a fun, memorable image, compared to just the 4-letter word?
Let’s try another one – how about the French word “chien”, which means “dog”?
The pronunciation of the word sounds like “shyin” – it might remind you of the English word “shine”!
So, look up, either to your right or to your left, to visualize a very shiny dog!
Visualization strategies are at the heart of learning and remembering anything faster.
I have even more tips, tricks and information about the visual memory eye positions and lots of visual learning strategies in my course, Total Recall Learning™!
4. Use Spaced Learning and Spaced Repetition
But neuroscience shows that’s not actually how learning works best.
In fact, you’re more likely to retain and remember what you learn when you chunk your learning or break it down into smaller sections.
When you’re learning something new, your brain is using your working memory.
Your hippocampus, an important part of your brain involved in learning and memory inside your brain’s temporal lobe, holds the information you’re learning temporarily.
Here, it waits to create associations with what you already know. And remember, creating associations is how your brain learns and remembers best.
However, your working memory has limited capacity.
If you overload this capacity, you aren’t giving your brain enough time to absorb what it has already learned or learn anything new.
As a result, it ends up being like trying to hold water in your hands – it just slips through your fingers.
On the other hand, when you take a break as short as five minutes for every 20-25 minutes of learning, your working memory has the chance to fully recover.
And during this break, when your brain is in its default mode, it’s going over what it learned and what it already knows.
As a result, it creates all those brain-friendly associations that make it easier for you to recall what you learned.
So, chunk your study sessions, keeping them at 20 to 25-minute sessions with five minute breaks in between.
And when you get back to learning, make sure you review what you already covered.
When you review, apply or retrieve what you have already learned, the neurons storing that information activate more frequently, and as a result the neural connection grows stronger.
It’s a bit like building muscle at the gym – the more you practice, the stronger you get!
5. Listen to Native Speakers Every Day
Think about how you learned your native or first language.
You weren’t reading books as a baby or doing language quizzes as a toddler.
You picked up a good bit of vocabulary and speech before going to school simply by listening for at least a year before beginning to speak.
When you are learning vocabulary, your brain, being the efficient learning machine it is, keeps track of what words it encounters frequently and in what context.
It notes the words you hear frequently, and a bit like your phone’s autocorrect, starts to anticipate combinations of words, to process what you’re hearing or reading faster.
On the other hand, words that don’t occur frequently for your brain get side-lined (which is why spaced repetition is important!)
Note that your brain isn’t just remembering lone words – it’s remembering the context and combinations in which they occur.
That’s why you want to listen to native speakers, perhaps on TV so you can gather the context of their body language as well as their words – just like you did as an infant.
This is called Total Physical Response and is recommended by the world’s experts in language acquisition.
Put yourself in situations where native speakers can tell you things like “throw the ball” or “shake my hand”, etc. in their language – and they will actually be showing you, physically, just like you learned your first language when you were young.
Watching TV shows in the new language with subtitles helps your brain develop the new vocabulary you need and it offers clues so you can acquire the language more quickly.
This also provides context and other cues like tone, emphasis, pronunciation, practical application etc., that simply learning lists of words can’t.
As a result, the more you are naturally listening to a new language the more your brain starts creating expectations of word combinations and the contexts in which they occur.
As you do this more frequently, your brain begins to process what you’re reading and hearing like a native speaker!
Thanks to your brain’s amazing neuroplasticity, you can pick up a new skill, including a foreign language, at any age.
And in fact, learning and experiencing new things not only allows you to gain new skills but also improves the overall functioning of your brain.
The more you exercise your neuroplasticity, the better your overall cognitive functioning, memory and brain health!
Check out the Total Recall Learning™ 10-day course, because there’s an entire section on how to learn a new language quickly.
So, what’s the first new language you want to learn?
Pat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.
Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, such as Total Recall Learning™.
She is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!