In this post: Learn why adults are better and faster at learning Spanish than kids. Unlock the five language learning tools you can start using today as an adult language learner.
“If only I could have started learning Spanish when I was younger, then I would have picked it up so much faster. Maybe it’s just too late for me…”
Sound like you? It’s okay, you’re not alone.
The idea that kids are better at learning languages than adults is one of the biggest language learning myths out there.
And the worst part? I’ve seen it hold so many of my students back from reaching their full potential in Spanish.
Because here’s the thing, it’s not too late for you — and all those other adult learners out there.
How do I know? Because I became fluent in Spanish as an adult and now live a very happy bilingual life.
But most importantly, you’ll come away with a new story you can tell yourself about how there has never been a better time than now to start your Spanish learning journey.
Why you really don’t want to learn Spanish like a child…
“Learning Spanish like a child” might not be as rosy as some other language learning programs make it out to be.
Sure, if you see bilingual children growing up around you, learning Spanish as a child does look effortless.
But here’s the reality: A 3-year-old speaks Spanish — like a 3-year-old.
It doesn’t bother a 3-year-old to call everyone tú and not usted, just like it doesn’t bother them to walk up to the wrong “adult-sized leg” at the market and follow it around for a while.
Yes, children learn naturally, or implicitly as linguists say. But that’s actually a problem — as an adult, you’ll never feel comfortable learning simply through trial and error (i.e. putting yourself in extremely embarrassing situations).
As it turns out, just ‘picking up a language’ as an adult, or learning a language like a child, takes a lot longer.
You don’t have time to learn Spanish like a child. You want to go to family gatherings and have adult conversations with your in-laws now. And you don’t want to go through all the stages of childhood in Spanish to get there.
Another reason you don’t want to ‘learn Spanish like a child’ is that you have completely different language (and life) goals — goals that go way beyond watching the latest Pixar movie in Spanish.
As an adult, you understand that Spanish will connect you to others — to an entire culture. It’s a language that can let you talk to your clients and people you work with — instead of being held at a distance by a translator.
Or just to be able to engage in small talk with your neighbor’s 80-year-old mother who just moved in next door and speaks very little English. “I wish I could gather the courage to stop waving at her every day and actually have a conversation,” you think to yourself as you get into your car for work every morning.
Maybe you even dream that learning Spanish will change you, make you more tolerant, more flexible, and just better able to deal with the unknown — and maybe that’s something you can uniquely comprehend. Because of who you are and because of your lifetime of experiences.
So, to make a long story short: you want more out of your Spanish as an adult.
Which is why the whole idea of ‘learning Spanish like a child’ doesn’t really seem logical.
Luckily, there’s a better way. A method that combines elements of how a child learns languages (like natural exposure) with a plethora of other tools you have as an adult language learner that actually gives you the advantage. [not like it’s a competition or anything 😉 ]
Why you have an advantage learning Spanish as an adult.
The true story of learning Spanish as an adult is this: You have tools in your language-learning tool belt that kids do not.
In fact, learning Spanish as an adult may actually be an advantage. Why?
Because you’ve got four adults-only Spanish learning superpowers that you can leverage now (¡Felicidades!).
#1 You already know how to speak one language
You may not have learned how to actually speak Spanish in high school. But you did learn what a ‘verb’ is. And even if you can’t quite remember that, it’s going to be a lot easier for you to figure it out than when you were 3. Or even 10.
You can use all kinds of academic materials like books, online courses, YouTube videos, and blog posts to learn quickly — not to mention you have the attention span and concentration to actually learn from these resources. [Can we all raise our hands and say that virtual elementary school was a complete failure on all fronts?]
#2 You’re learning words for concepts and cultural norms you already understand
(Not learning to make sense of the world through language for the first time!)
As a child, you had to learn the difference between fruits and vegetables — I’m sure we’ve all had (or seen) a child in our lives asking, “Mommy, is there ‘meat’ in chicken?”
Luckily, you, as an adult, have already mastered these concepts and words in your first language, which puts you lightyears ahead of a child.
Similarly, you already understand cultural norms in your own language, such as saying please and thank you, asking for things politely, and how to respectfully decline an offer. Transferring this to your second language is much faster because you already know it’s an important part of communication.
#3 You already know what kind of learner you are
After years of formal education, you know what kind of learner you are (i.e. audio, visual, reading/ writing, and kinesthetic/tactile). As an adult language-learner, this gives you a huge advantage because you can choose methods that help you retain new information the fastest.
Now, just because children learn languages differently than adults doesn’t mean there aren’t some successful language learning methods for kids that we can’t incorporate into our own language-learning routines.
Language-learning methods for children that you can incorporate into your adult language-learning routine
As an adult, you can always decide to use some of the fun learning strategies that work really well for children.
Make language learning physical.
Like learning Spanish while you do something you love, such as taking a dance class or cooking class or even watching a tutorial for a simple craft on YouTube.
One of my students, Melissa, loves to take cycling classes on her Peleton bike from an Argentinian instructor. Another student, Emily, likes to do her daily morning meditation via a guided meditation app completely in Spanish.
Learn Spanish through music.
Just like a child, you can immerse yourself in pronunciation, language, rhythms, and just good music! But you’re not limited to children’s songs.
There’s a whole world of music to choose from. You can create your own playlist, listen to a great Spanish music podcast or even get ready to sing your favorite Spanish song karaoke style.
Learn Spanish through stories.
You can probably remember learning your native language through stories as a child. Well, learning languages through books and stories is still a powerful experience for adults.
But once again, your options are much wider. You can read books and novels on almost any topic. Or you can start with simpler stories designed for language learners.
Learning Spanish is not something you just learn intuitively unless you’re a child — and you have 15-20 years to spend ‘growing up’ in the language. [Who has time for that?]
The reality is that polyglots (you know, adults who speak multiple languages) are acquiring new languages left and right and speaking them fluently at a rapid pace. This is possible because they are taking advantage of all of the tools and strategies available to them as adult-language learners.
Alright, my friend. It’s time for you to go out into the world and use your language-learning superpowers. ¡Ándale!
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