Is immersion the best method for learning Spanish at middle age?

Learning Spanish at middle age -  Image by acelebrationofwomen.orgMost people assume that only children can learn foreign languages to a level where they can be called “bilingual”. On the same token, most of us think it is almost impossible for someone in the 40 to 65 age category to learn to speak another language fluently.

But a remarkable book by a pioneering language expert reveals surprising facts that overturn these beliefs on their heads. The secret to successful language acquisition is not youth – just motivation and immersion.

Kató Lomb

In 2008, a book called Polyglot: How I Learn Languages, written by a simultaneous interpreter and translator called Kató Lomb, came out in its English language version.

The book in fact was not new – the original Hungarian edition came out in 1970. But it suddenly captured the imagination of the West, due to the author’s remarkable success in learning several languages fluently as an adult.

By the age of 86, apart from her native Hungarian, Lomb spoke 16 languages fluently. She earned money with all of her second languages, either as a simultaneous interpreter or as a literature translator. She fluently spoke English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Slovak, Ukrainian, Polish, Danish, Hebrew, Chinese and Japanese.

In her book, Lomb firmly states that her skills had nothing to do with talent. She also maintained that grown ups find it much easier to acquire new language skills than children do. So what was her secret?

There’s a formula!

In the second edition of her book, which came out in English in 2010, Lomb revealed a formula, which according to her explains the ultimate success of an adult learning a foreign language:

(Invested Time  X  Motivation)  /  Inhibition  =  RESULT

Lomb believed that the ultimate question, in whether an adult will learn a second language fluently, is motivation. What ultimately decides your success is how interested you are in learning a new language, and how often and how much you surround yourself with it – not your age.

Five top pieces of advice for adult learners

Learning Spanish at middel age - Image by quefrasesdeamor.comIf you are in your middle years and studying Spanish right now, or considering studying Spanish, do not let anybody tell you that you cannot reach fluency. Even if you don’t intend to learn 17 languages like Kató Lomb, you can use her excellent advice to reach your Spanish language fluency goal.

1. Believe in yourself

According to Lomb there is no such thing as linguistic talent. If you tell yourself you are “good” at learning Spanish, then you will be.

2. Keep at it

You might be really enthusiastic at first, and then not want to study Spanish at all. The trick is not to force yourself, but not stop either. Change your tactics and instead of reading a book or doing a written exercise, spend some time watching Spanish videos on YouTube or listen to Spanish music.

3. Translate simple, everyday things into Spanish

Keep translating things you see, hear and read into Spanish. This is easy and takes very little time and effort. If you’re counting something, try to do it in Spanish. If someone says ‘Good morning’ to you, translate it in your head to ‘Buenos días’.

4. Spend time with the language every day

If you do 10 minutes every day, it’s better than 4 hours twice a week. Mornings are the best time, because the brain is less tired.

5. Native speakers

Seize every opportunity to speak with natives. If your neighbour is Spanish, start talking to them. Find yourself a Skype language exchange buddy who lives in Madrid. Go to Spain as often as you can and only speak Spanish. All else failing, watch Spanish films.

The trick is to immerse yourself

The message from Kató Lomb is clear. If you are motivated enough and deliberately surround yourself with Spanish every day, you can learn to speak it like a native, even in your middle age.

Learning a foreign language is like an act of conquest – it’s a good idea to attack it from every direction. Use any materials you can lay your hands on: radio, television, films, magazines, newspapers, comics, your language text books, CD’s, podcasts, language exchange, classes, online courses, music, translating things around you and if possible, travelling to Spain. The more you immerse yourself, the faster you’ll learn.

More information

UniSpain specialises in Spanish language immersion courses in Spain. We work with over 40 officially recognised language schools and public universities that offer high quality courses to foreign students – including programmes specifically designed for mature students over 40.

Visit our site, take a Spanish level test and find out why our courses represent such good value. It’s never too late to start learning Spanish.

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