Learning a new language as an adult provides unique challenges for its learners

While many language acquisition methods exist, each one offers its own advantages and disadvantages. As children, we naturally pick up language at a rapid pace. This ability begins to fade around age six, and decreases dramatically after adolescence. Due to this change in learning abilities, we need to acknowledge the importance of tailoring language study specifically for adults.

During my seven years of language study as a linguist in the United States Air Force, I realized there are three important aspects of learning and maintaining a language. They are: structure, learning style and dedication.


Thankfully, the Defense Language Institute has researched foreign language classroom structure and formulated ways to maximum success and minimize stress levels during the language acquisition process.

According to DLI, there is a ‘tipping point’ after fifty minutes of study at which the quality of one’s learning begins to fade. Therefore, after fifty minutes of learning, a ten-minute break should be provided to students so that they can rebound and continue learning. Additionally, having a consistent lesson format, i.e. vocabulary first, followed by listening, then speaking, can reduce some of the thought that is required to study, thereby making the learning more effective.

Learning Style:

Each individual has his/her own learning style. Many online tests are available at no cost to determine an individual’s unique learning style. However, these should be viewed as loose guides rather than as the basis of a learning methodology. Instructors who are overly influenced by learning style and neglectful of best teaching practices typically produce poor results. Consequently, it is critical to focus primarily on known methodologies and maintain secondary consideration of individual learning styles. This creates a more efficient learning environment and ensures that students remain interested.


Finally, the dedication and perserverance of the adult learner is vital to the success of any language study. Dedication often develops into enthusiasm, which greatly enhances long-term language development. Therefore, dedication should not exist only at the onset of learning but throughout each stage of ongoing language development, as language abilities often fade over time if they are not regularly utilized. Remaining proficient in simple language concepts is far more efficient than relearning the concepts altogether.

Conclusively, recognizing the challenges of learning a new language as an adult is imperative and necessary. Consistent lesson structure and regular adherence to proven-successful methodologies can help keep students’ focus on the new language versus the method of learning. Dedication to the language and developing a sense a sense of pride in one’s abilities is what ultimately will lead learners to long-term success.

Author: Tyler J