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How easy is it to learn a foreign language in your 50s?

Article by Kay Newton

There are many way to learn a foreign language and even at 50+  there is no excuse if you want to learn. 2012 maybe your year to get out there and test out your new skills whether its to make your holiday a more memorable experience or to start a new life, the way you communicate with others will create those memories.

At 50+ you may not be at your optimal age to learn a new skill yet today’s science tells us that your brain is constantly changing and will adapt and change depending on the skills you learn. The best way to learn something new at any age is to immerse yourself and use all your key senses; seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting and emotions.

When I came to Spain 27 years ago I was fortunate enough to find a Spanish teacher with Irish origins. As the Irish tend to do things differently my classes became the highlight of the week! Before meeting Joyce I had attempted Spanish courses by CD and failed miserably, I had tried Paul Daniels system of learning by ‘magic’ a system of learning via word association and I was no-where near a conversation. I had tried the local spanish classes but had felt out of my depth before I had really begun, lost in the conjugation of verbs which meant nothing to me.

What Joyce did was actually perfect for me – my first job was to learn a long list of words dealing with my daily life, at the time I was working on a private yacht and had to visit the local market everyday.  40 words later I was able to point a most of the fruit and vegetables and utter “un kilo de … por favor”.

There was a slight problem with this method of learning… the local stall holder was now so impressed with my new found knowledge of fruit and veg vocabulary they wanted me to converse about the weather and other things.  Back to my teacher and the next steps.

We built up a series of word groups and then added verbs to them to make sentences – not the usual way of learning a language, and yes I will never get a job as a translator, yet I am quite well understood and get by perfectly!

If you really want to learn a new language I suggest you do these things:

Top tips for learning a foreign language

  1.  Immerse yourself in the country – live there as much as you can, refuse to speak English and practice every day.
  2. Don’t worry if you can’t speak it perfectly – just do it! You will be rewarded for your efforts. The amazing thing is that people will help you and even correct your mistakes with a smile!
  3.  Drink a glass of red wine, it certainly loosens the tongue!!
  4.  If your single – get a partner, everyone tells me the best place to learn a new language is in bed! Even at 50+!!
  5.  Learn the vocabulary that is important to you first – not verb conjugations.
  6.  Find a song you like and translate the words you do not know.
  7.  Make sure the local TV or radio plays in the background all the time.
  8.  Attempt to read the newspaper and translate those words you don’t not know. Make sure you use at least three of those new words in three different sentences during that day to make sure you remember them.
  9.  Go to the cinema or theatre and get totally immersed in the moment.
  10.  Go to local restaurants and try out the local food, learn the names and then find out as much as you can about the history of that dish.
  11.  Make local friends and refuse to talk English!
  12.  Practice, practice and practice – never give up.
  13.  If all else fails revert to hand/sign language!
  14.  My biggest insight; no matter where you are in the world, smile first! It will save you a thousand words in any language.

If one of your New Years resolutions was to learn a new language, why don’t you let us know how you have begun the task. Perhaps you have something to add to the list above. The key ingredient is to get going and work at it step by step.

Kay Newton is a Personal Development Coach who lives in Mallorca Spain. You can find her at http://www.MallorcaLet.com

Photo credit: Salvatore Vuono

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