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  • Karina Fortier

Why We Struggle to Learn Languages

Children are NOT better than adults at learning languages

First of all, we need to debunk the myth that children are better than adults at #learning_languages. Here's their secret: they've been immersed in their native language their whole life! For a 5-year French kid, this amounts to about 15 000 hours spent in French, while your high school #French_classes probably gave you about...100 hours of French immersion? Or less? (Note: we are making the distinction here between the number of hours of French class, during which you probably spoke mostly in English, and the number of hours you actually spent listening to and speaking French.)

So it's not that children are better at learning languages. They have the advantage of #language_immersion, but adults win in intelligence, memory, and learning techniques. So why do we struggle so much when learning #foreign_languages?

Immerse yourself and practice a second language with native speakers worldwide!

The role of memory

Gabriel Wyner explains: when you learn a new word in a #second_language, you will most likely forget it one minute later. Take the French word viennoiserie, which means pastry. All your memories of eating pastries - or salivating at them- are associated to the English word pastry! So viennoiserie doesn't stick.

However, if you take a trip to France and enter one of those quaint Parisian bakeries that have Edith Piaf music playing in the background, and the delicious smell of freshly baked bread filling the air, and the lovely young French woman at the counter greets you with a big smile and says: ''Bonjour! Aimeriez-vous une viennoisie?'' and you say ''Oui!'' and bite into this exquisite pastry... do you think you'd be more likely to remember this word?


Because now the word is associated to a memory, to a feeling, to senses, to an experience. The word now has life.

Replicating language immersion

Well, not everyone has the financial means or the time to go to Paris to learn French. But most people have access to a computer and to Internet. So in the meantime, what you can do is replicate that language immersion with the Overcome the Barrier language exchange platform. We connect students worldwide (and soon adults too!) so that they practice a second language, and stay in that target language during a full 50 minutes weekly (as quoted by Spanish teacher Bryan Raycraft who incorporated the OCTB program in his classes...see his testimonial here). Through these exchanges, new words do take life, since they are associated to stories, experiences, thoughts and memories the participants are sharing with a friend across the globe.

Try it now for free!