Advertising
Advertising

You Need To Know This Science Of Learning Languages To Perfectly Master A Foreign Language

You Need To Know This Science Of Learning Languages To Perfectly Master A Foreign Language

Picking up a new language is not really that easy, but knowing more about the science of learning languages may help you speed up the learning progress. Belle Beth Cooper has shared her views on Crew Blog:

I’ve been attempting to learn French for a while now, and it’s a slow process. It’s all much harder this time around than it was to learn English, my first language. All this effort made me wonder if there were some tricks to learning a foreign language that I’d been missing. It turns out, it’s just a tricky thing to do once you’re an adult.

How we learn language

Learning language is something we’re born to do. it’s an instinct we have, which is proven, as one research paper says, just by observation:

To believe that special biological adaptations are a requirement, it is enough to notice that all the children but none of the dogs and cats in the house acquire language.

As children, we learn to think, learn to communicate and intuitively pick up an understanding of grammar rules in our mother tongue, or native language. From then on, we learn all new languages in relation to the one we first knew—the one that we used to understand the world around us for the first time ever.

Advertising

Although language is something we learn, research has shown that the instinct to do so is present from birth. Not only are we inclined to process and adopt language, but it seems that the human brain has common linguistic constraints, regardless of the language we’ve learned. Certain syllables, which aren’t common in any language, are difficult for the brain to process, even in newborns who haven’t started learning any language yet.

Learning a foreign language

When it comes to learning a second language, adults are at a disadvantage. As we age, our brain’s plasticity (its ability to create new neurons and synapses) is reduced. Following brain damage that causes a loss of speech, for instance, researchers have observed that children are more likely to regain the power of speech, by creating new pathways in the brain to replace the damaged ones.

One theory of why learning a foreign language is so hard for adults focuses more on the process we go through to do so, rather than the loss of plasticity. Robert Bley-Vroman explains in Linguistic Perspectives on Second Language Acquisition that adults approach learning a new language with an adult problem-solving process, rather than in the same way a child develops language for the first time.

Although this means adults generally progress through the early stages of learning a language faster than children, people who are exposed to a foreign language first during childhood usually achieve a higher proficiency than those who start out as adults.

There’s still hope, though. A study of secondary language pronunciation found that some learners who started as adults scored as well as native speakers. It’s also been shown that motivation to learn can improve proficiency, so if you really want to learn a language, it’s not necessarily too late.

Advertising

Give yourself the best chance

If you want to put in the effort to learn a new language, try these methods that are known for improving learning and memory.

1. Spaced repetition

Spaced repetition is a proven memory technique that helps you keep what you’ve learned strong in your mind. The way it works is you revise each word or phrase you’ve learned in spaced intervals. Initially the intervals will be smaller: you might revise a new word a few times in one practice session, and then again the next day. Once you know it well you’ll be able to leave days or weeks between revisions without forgetting it.

Here’s a diagram that shows how the “forgetting curve” drops less dramatically with each new repetition:

typical forgetting

    I like using Duolingo for vocabulary and phrase practice because it takes care of spaced repetition for me. The app keeps track of which words I haven’t practiced for a while and reminds me to strengthen my understanding of those. During each lesson, it mixes up familiar and new words to space out the repetition.

    Advertising

    2. Learn before you sleep

    One of the many benefits we get from sleep is that it helps to clear out the brain’s “inbox” – the temporary storage of new information and memories from our time awake. We need sleep (even just a nap) to move anything we’ve recently learned into our brain’s long term storage. Once it’s safely stored, spaced repetition will help to strengthen the connection so we can recall the information faster and more accurately.

    3. Study content, not the language

    Although most language learning classes and progams focus on purely learning the language, a study of high school students studying French found that when they studied another subject taught in French instead of a class purely to teach French, the students tested better for listening and were more motivated to learn. Students in the standard French class scored better on reading and writing tests, so both methods clearly have merit.

    Once you’ve mastered the basics of a new language, try including some content on a topic you’re interested in to improve your understanding. You could have conversations with friends learning the same language, read articles online or listen to a podcast to test your comprehension.

    4. Practice a little everyday

    If you’re busy, you might be tempted to put off your studying and cram in a big chunk of learning once every week or two. However, studying a little every day is actually more effective. Because your brain’s “inbox” has limited space and only sleep can clear it out, you’ll hit the limit of how much you can take in pretty quickly if you study for hours at a time.

    Studying in small chunks every day combines spaced repetition with the best use of the brain’s temporary storage.

    Advertising

    5. Mix new and old

    The brain craves novelty but attempting to learn lots of new words or phrases at once can be overwhelming. Novel concepts work best when they’re mixed in with familiar information.

    When you add new words to your vocabulary, try spacing them in-between words you’re already familiar with so they’ll stand out—your brain will latch onto them more easily.

    Et maintenant, c’est l’heure pour moi apprendre des plus mots francais!

    The Science of Learning New Languages | Crew Blog

    Featured photo credit: Paris, Montmartre, square Jehan Rictus. In 1936 was build this wall with 311 via shutterstock.com

    More by this author

    Anna Chui

    Anna is a communication expert and a life enthusiast. She's the editor of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

    How Self Doubt Keeps You Stuck and How to Overcome It How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing The Desire to Be Liked Will End You up Feeling More Rejected Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering This 4-Year Old Girl’s Explanation On the Problem with New Year’s Resolutions Is Everything You Need

    Trending in Productivity

    1 The Secret to Success Is Failure 2 The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) 3 What to Do When Bored at Work (And Why You Feel Bored Actually) 4 6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills 5 How to Concentrate and Focus Better to Boost Productivity

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Published on July 22, 2019

    The Secret to Success Is Failure

    The Secret to Success Is Failure

    You see a job that you’d love to do; and, you decide to go for it.

    You submit your application, and then are pleased to find a few days later that you’re invited for an interview. This goes well, and you begin to have quiet optimism that a job offer will be coming your way soon…

    It doesn’t.

    Instead, you receive a letter saying thank you — but, they’ve decided to go with another candidate.

    At this point, you could allow yourself to feel defeated, sad, and perhaps even a little angry. These are normal responses to bad news. Yet, it’s not wise to let them fester and disrupt your goals. Successful people don’t let failures kill their dreams.

    Sure, they might temporarily feel deflated. But, very quickly, they pick themselves back up again and begin planning their next steps towards success.

    How about you? Do you currently feel embarrassed or guilty about failing?

    Advertising

    Don’t worry if you do, as most of us have been programmed since childhood to see failure as a bad thing. Yet, as I’m going to show you in the next few minutes, this programming is dead wrong — failure is actually an essential part of success.

    Don’t Be Tempted by Perfection

    The first thing I want you to think about is this:

    Resisting failure is, at its core, seeking perfection. And, perfection doesn’t exist.

    That’s why perfectionists are also likely to be chronic procrastinators.

    As Psychology Today noted in their article Pitfalls of Perfectionism, people who constantly seek for perfection stop themselves from engaging in challenging experiences.[1] That’s because these perfectionists are less creative and innovative than the average person — plus they’re less likely to take risks. Add these factors together, and you have someone who is overly focused on their own performance and is always quick to defend themselves. Unfortunately, these traits prevent them from having the necessary focus when it comes to learning new tasks.

    Let me be clear: Striving for perfection is not the same as striving for excellence.

    The former is a fool’s quest for the unattainable; while the latter is really just about doing our very best (which we can all obtain).

    Advertising

    And, there’s another problem that perfectionists have to deal with. Namely, when they fail to reach their ideal, they feel dejected and defeated. And — as you can imagine — repeat this often enough, and these people can end up feeling bitter and depressed about their lives.

    So, forget about seeking perfection, and instead, focus on always doing your very best.

    Why Failure Is Good

    I recently came across a Forbes article Failing Your Way To Success: Why Failure Is A Crucial Ingredient For Success[2] that helped explain why most people are opposed to failure.

    The article referenced the work of two world-renowned psychologists (Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky), who were awarded a Nobel Prize for their work. They discovered something very interesting: the effect of a loss is twice as great as the gain from a win.

    Have you ever thought about that before?

    What it means is that failure has a far greater negative impact on us than the positive impact of an equivalent win. It’s no wonder then that most people are afraid to fail.

    And, here’s where it gets interesting…

    Advertising

    Amazon (which along with Apple, Facebook and Google, is considered one of the Big Four technology companies) has a culture that is tolerant of failure. And Jeff Bezos — Amazon’s founder and CEO — believes that this culture is one of the main reasons for the company’s big achievements over the last 25 years. In a letter to shareholders, he said:

    “Failure comes part and parcel with invention. It’s not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right.” 

    The truth is, failure can open up a world of exciting opportunities for you.

    How does it do this?

    By constantly showing you new avenues to travel on. And, by helping you learn from your mistakes — so you can be better next time around. It also helps you identify what’s not working for your life, and what is.

    So instead of seeing something as detrimental to success, you should see it as a tool FOR success. A tool that will help you to continually refine your journey in life.

    If you still need some convincing that the secret to success is failure, then take a look at the following excerpts from our article 10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On:

    Advertising

    • J.K. Rowling encountered a catalog of failures shortly after graduating from college, including: being jobless, the breakdown of her marriage, and living as a lone parent. However, instead of giving up on life, she used these failures to propel her to write the Harry Potter fantasy series — the best-selling book series in history.

    • Walt Disney didn’t have an easy start either. He dropped out of school at a young age in a failed attempt to join the army. Later, one of his early business ventures, Laugh-o-Gram Studios, went bankrupt. He was also fired from a Missouri newspaper for “not being creative enough.” (Yes, you read that correctly.) Was he defeated by these failures? Just ask Mickey Mouse.

    • Michael Jordan had this to say about the power of failure: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

    Embrace Failure, and Prepare for Success

    I hope this has been an eye-opener for you.

    Failure has long been branded a leper; but in reality, it’s a healthy, essential component of success.

    The trick of course is to develop the mindset of a winner. Someone who sees failures as stepping stones to success — and defeats as important learning experiences.

    So, are you ready to embrace your failures and take the proud road to success?

    I sincerely hope so.

    Featured photo credit: Bruce Mars via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next