8 Tips for Mature Students to Learn Spanish Faster!

fast4Contrary to common belief, mature students can learn a language at the same speed as younger learners. As long as your motivation is high, you can use these following tricks to really give your Spanish a boost…

1. Don’t get stressed if you cannot speak Spanish straight away – it’s normal

Many mature students believe that they cannot speak Spanish quickly, simply because of their age. The myth remains that children learn foreign languages much faster. Professor Stephen Krashen, from the University of Southern California, who conducted extensive studies into second language learning, concluded that a period of “silence” when you are first learning a language is not only normal, but can actually help you to learn a language faster. Even children take a several years to utter more than lose words or simple sentences in their first language, and they too often make mistakes or fumble with meaning of words. Speaking is not something that can be taught as such, and you first have to absorb and listen to Spanish for a time before you can internalise the language. Krashen also believes that students should feel comfortable speaking before they begin to communicate; this will help them learn faster.

2. Use visual aids to remember words

Adults sometimes struggle with memory. Grown ups, compared to kids, have much more on their minds and as we advance in years, memory becomes more and more selective, our brains storing data in order of importance. To train your brain into remembering new Spanish words more easily and to retain them for longer periods of time, try to associate them with an image. You can use real objects, draw pictures or try flashcards at home to compliment classroom learning. In fact, all learners can greatly benefit from computer flashcard programs and mobile apps widely available these days. Anki is a totally free downloadable flashcard application, available for Windows, Mac and Linux, as well as iPhone and Android.

3. Aim high

According to professor Krashen (the same who studied the “period of silence” in paragraph one), students who receive language tuition just a tiny bit above their real proficiency level, tend to learn a language more efficiently than those students who are not challenged.

4. Memorize 3-5 new words each day

Vocabulary is key to language learning, and learning a few new words each day can amount to a thousand or more new words in one year. Most second grade children have a first-language vocabulary of about 4000-6000 words. You can comfortably aim to achieve this in just four Spanish levels. Did you know that vocabulary is divided into “tiers”, or levels? This can be helpful, when selecting words suitable for your level. Tier 1 words are very common in every day life, for example agua (water), pero (but), rojo (red). Tier 2 words usually appear in many different texts and both in written and oral language that adults use, for example sarcasmo (sarcasm), frangancia (fragrance). Tier 3 words are the most rare group and are usually very specific to a certain context, for instance fotosíntesis (photosynthesis). Beginner language learners usually benefit from picking up a few new Tier 1 words every day. More advanced learners should focus on Tier 2 words.

5. Use as many different learning methods in your free time, as possible

There is often debate about which different language learning methods are best or more important. For example, are grammar books, group exercises for practicing speaking, listening comprehension tapes or vocabulary quizzes all equally good or important for adult learners? Or should one method be used more than others? The truth is, none of these methods are exclusive and most language schools use them all together for best results. You can replicate this at home by brushing up on grammar and vocabulary from your course books, and then watching a Spanish soap opera, listening to a Spanish radio broadcast or finding a native Spanish speaker who you can share an hour of language exchange with, either in person or by Skype.button Learn

6. Forget your first language!

All adult learners, when learning a second language, automatically compare the new language to their own. Whilst this is normal, picking up Spanish can become too challenging to those with very different language structures. As an example, it is much easier for a Swedish person than for a Chinese person to learn Spanish, because Swedish has the same alphabet as Spanish. But it is easier for a French student than an English student to pick up Spanish, because French is grammatically more similar to Spanish than English is. So how do you move away from the problem of your first language?

Perhaps you’ve heard about the famous MiddleburyCollegelanguage pledge? Their language faculty rule is “No English allowed”. While language students are on the language school grounds, they must never use their own first language to communicate. Instead they have to speak the language they are learning, using whatever vocabulary they have – and if they cannot find the words, they have to use sign language, pictures, or any other inventive resources. If they do not comply, they can get expelled from the university!

This method is hard to adopt, but really helps to get students from translating in their heads whenever they are trying to think of a word. This helps when attempting to pick up and retain vocabulary, and makes overall learning faster. Some Spanish learners who have chosen to completely block out their first language and only use the second language, report staggering results – learning language to a C1 proficiency in only 12 months. This method works best in language immersion situations in a Spanish speaking country (read on to find out more).

7.  Pronunciation counts

Paying close attention to pronunciation helps mature learners a lot. Adults are less likely to imitate than children and we often pronounce words in the way we think we should say them, instead of how the real pronunciation goes. Understanding native speakers becomes much easier if you understand pronunciation in a detailed way. Vocabulary retention also becomes easier when you know how words should sound. Mp3 or CD pronunciation guides are good for this purpose, but even better, why not get some DVDs or search YouTube for pronunciation lessons? Seeing a Spanish-speaker forming the words with their mouth, as well as making the correct sounds, will really help you with learning.

8. Immersion

When you can more or less communicate in Spanish about every day things, finding a place to immerse yourself in the language is the best way forward. For mature learners, being in a situation where you have to speak Spanish all the time, every day, will really speed up your learning. Applying the “No English allowed” rule then, will help you to quickly build vocabulary and get a total understanding of grammar structures – without having to think about it or translate words in your head – and bring you closer to fluency.

fast2The more intense you can make your immersion (by spending a few weeks or months in Spain doing an intensive language course for example), the quicker your brain will adapt. As bonus, adult learners definitely have an advantage when it comes to doing language courses abroad. Mature students, unlike children, are able to combine many different learning methods, including cultural immersion and academic classroom tuition. This may potentially double the rate at which you learn Spanish.

Hope you enjoyed out learning tips for mature Spanish learners! For more information about very affordable Spanish courses in Spain, including specialist courses for mature students, visit UniSpain’s website.

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