Beat the 2 Big Challenges in Mastering a New Language

Becoming fluent in a second language isn’t always smooth sailing…

Ever tried learning a new language and felt like your native tongue was playing a prank on you? 

Ever felt you’re too old to become fluent in a new language?

We will help you to work around these 2 mischievous troublemakers. Just scroll down a bit again.

Your mother tongue molds your new language journey

That’s the deal: your mother tongue plays a pretty big role in how you tackle that second language. Thanks to the findings of neuroscience, we can show how that happens in detail.

The transfer effect

Start imagining your native language as your trusty sidekick. It’s your linguistic superhero with a cape!

What happens is that the grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation patterns from your mother tongue often tag along into your new language endeavors. This can be awesome because it gives you a head start. 

However, it can also be a bit tricky, leading to what experts call “transfer errors.” These are like little slips where your native language habits creep into your new language.

Sound the same

Experts made a cool discovery: your mother tongue can shape the way you pronounce words in the second language. You might notice that you tend to make sounds that are more familiar to your native language, making it sound a bit like you’re speaking English with a Japanese twist. 

It’s like your tongue has a memory of its own! Maybe it’s like the most annoying part of being influenced by your mother tongue… You pour so much effort into it, but it just feels soooo tough to attain perfection. 

Cultural connections

Languages are not just words; they’re also windows into cultures (Speaky community is here for that!). Your native language often comes with a whole set of cultural norms and ways of communicating. When you dive into a new language, you’re not just learning new words; you’re also immersing yourself in a new culture. 

The way you express yourself and understand the world can be deeply influenced by your mother tongue.

A little bit of brain gym

Your brain is doing a mental workout when you learn a new language. Neuroscientists have found that your native language skills give you an upper hand in the process. It’s like having a strong core when you start a new exercise routine. 

Your problem-solving abilities, memory, and cognitive skills from your mother tongue can help you tackle the new language puzzles.

How to tame the language interference dragon

Your mother tongue will pop its head into your new language learning, creating a bit of linguistic chaos – but fear not, see how to minimize this interference. 

1. Immerse yourself

One of the best ways to minimize language interference is to immerse yourself in the new language and culture. Dive into it like you’re diving into a pool on a hot summer day. 

Surround yourself with native speakers –  in-person or virtually, no difference – and use internet resources to keep immersed in the new language, from home. The more you’re exposed to it, the more your brain will adapt and start thinking in the new language, rather than constantly translating from your mother tongue.

2. Think direct, not translated

A common mistake is translating in your head. If you’re thinking of how to say something in your native language and then translating it, you’re likely to trip over the interference. 

Instead, try to think directly in the new language. It might be a bit challenging at first, but it’s like training your brain to ride a new linguistic bike.

Anyway, some scientists claim that our brain initially thinks in our mother tongue. It tends to compare the new language terms with our mother tongue library of terms. But with practice and, most importantly, immersing yourself in another culture (not just focusing on grammar), that starts to fade away. 

3. Practice regularly

Consistency is your best buddy in the language learning journey. Make it a habit to practice every day. Even if it’s just for 15-30 minutes, regular practice helps your brain build new language pathways and minimize the interference from your native language.

But let’s be realistic: you only truly master a language when it takes up a good chunk of your day. Just like it happened with your native language! Spending only 3 hours a week on a new language is like nothing to your brain, which devotes at least 8 hours a day to your mother tongue!

If you have multiple language exchange partners each week on the Speaky app, you’ll get plenty of practice and can make significant progress toward fluency!

4. Mind your false friends

Languages often have words that look or sound similar but have different meanings. These are called “false friends.” Be mindful of them, as they can lead to major interference!

A word that looks like one in your mother tongue might mean something entirely different in the new language. For instance, “embarazada” in Spanish might look like it means “embarrassed” in English, but it actually means “pregnant”!

5. Patience and persistence

Learning a new language is like a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t get discouraged by the occasional interference hiccup. It’s all part of the process. Keep your chin up, stay persistent, and remember that every mistake is a step closer to fluency.

Absolutely everyone goes through some level of interference from a new language for a while. It’s just your brain getting a bit mixed up with the novelty, that’s all… 

Age is just a number in a new language fluency (or not?!)

Does age make a difference in this language-learning journey? 

The short answer is yes and no.

Let’s show you how age can truly influence the process of picking up a second language (and if  you can do anything about it.)

The young sponge brains

First off, if you’ve ever heard that kids learn languages faster, it’s not just a myth. Younger brains are like sponges when it comes to soaking up new languages. They’re super flexible and can pick up pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary with ease. That’s why kids raised in bilingual environments often become fluent in both languages effortlessly.

Plus, we can’t ignore that kids don’t have the typical worries of adult daily life – their brains are more carefree and focused.

The teen and adult puzzle

Now, here’s where it gets a bit more complicated. As we grow older, our brain’s language-learning superpowers seem to wane a bit. That’s not to say you can’t learn a new language as a teenager or adult—far from it! It’s just that the process might not be as lightning-quick as it is for kids.

Challenges in adulthood

Adults and teenagers might face some challenges when learning a new language. Pronunciation can be a bit trickier, and grammar rules might seem like a maze. But don’t worry: these are hurdles that you can overcome with practice and determination. It’s just a matter of adapting and finding the right methods that work for you.

It doesn’t matter how you will master a language; what matters is that you will do it! 😉 

The wisdom of age

On the flip side, age comes with its own set of advantages. Adults tend to be more disciplined and persistent in their learning. They understand complex concepts better and can relate new languages to their existing knowledge. Complex concepts open the door to better conversation and the acquisition of all kinds of knowledge. 

Plus, they’re usually motivated by personal or professional goals, which can be a powerful driving force.

What you can do (yes, you can!)

The key to learning a new language at any age is to be patient and persistent. Here are 4 tips:

1. Start early if possible

If you’re a parent, introducing your child to a second language early can be a fantastic gift. But even if you’re well into adulthood, it’s never too late to start.

2. Embrace immersion

Immerse yourself in the new language. Watch movies, listen to music, and interact with native speakers (in the Speaky app you can find many of them). The more you surround yourself with the language, the faster you’ll learn.

3. Set realistic goals

Understand that your language-learning pace might be different from a child’s. Set achievable goals, and celebrate your progress along the way.

Many children learn a new language but end up losing it as they grow due to a lack of practice.

4. Stay motivated

Find your motivation. Whether it’s for travel, career, or personal growth, having a reason to learn the language will keep you going.

So, to finish

We can’t deny: your mother tongue may be that little pebble in your shoe, and your age can influence the speed of language learning. 

But the good news you just found out is that they are not an unbeatable barrier. 

With the right approach and a dash of patience, you can master a new language at any age, regardless of your mother tongue!

On the Speaky language exchange community everyone is doing that!

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