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Becoming Fluent: How Cognitive Science Can Help Adults Learn a Foreign Language

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Adults who want to learn a foreign language are often discouraged because they believe they cannot acquire a language as easily as children. Once they begin to learn a language, adults may be further discouraged when they find the methods used to teach children don’t seem to work for them. What is an adult language learner to do? In this book, Richard Roberts and Roger Kreuz draw on insights from psychology and cognitive science to show that adults can master a foreign language if they bring to bear the skills and knowledge they have honed over a lifetime. Adults shouldn’t try to learn as children do; they should learn like adults.

Roberts and Kreuz report evidence that adults can learn new languages even more easily than children. Children appear to have only two advantages over adults in learning a language: they acquire a native accent more easily, and they do not suffer from self-defeating anxiety about learning a language. Adults, on the other hand, have the greater advantages—gained from experience—of an understanding of their own mental processes and knowing how to use language to do things. Adults have an especially advantageous grasp of pragmatics, the social use of language, and Roberts and Kreuz show how to leverage this metalinguistic ability in learning a new language.

Learning a language takes effort. But if adult learners apply the tools acquired over a lifetime, it can be enjoyable and rewarding.

226 pages, Hardcover

First published August 1, 2015

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About the author

Roger J. Kreuz

8 books14 followers
Roger J. Kreuz a.k.a. Roger Kreuz has been a professor of psychology for 30 years. After studying psychology and linguistics at the University of Toledo, he earned master's and doctoral degrees in experimental psychology at Princeton University. He was also a post-doctoral researcher in cognitive gerontology at Duke University. Since 1988, he has been a faculty member at the University of Memphis. He has researched and published on diverse topics in the psychology of language, primarily in the areas of text and discourse processing and figurative language. He currently serves as an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Memphis.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 149 reviews
Profile Image for sarah.
382 reviews260 followers
August 22, 2020
2020 non fiction book 6 out 12

Becoming Fluent was an informative and interesting book about language learning for adults backed up by cognitive science.

For some background to my experience, I have been learning French for 5 years. Throughout the way I have discovered things that have worked, andmany that haven't. It was really interesting to discover the science behind why that may have been.

One of my biggest takeaways from this book was the difference between how adults and children learn languages. I know I have fallen prey to the mode of thinking 'I'm too old to learn a new language' or 'if only I was raised bilingual- too late now'. But really, that is an excuse for a lack of commitment and effort. While it is easier for children to pick up certain aspects of language learning- it is never too late. The biggest problem however, is learning that new language as if you are were a child. Instead, you should utilise the skills you have as an adult and apply that into your learning endeavours. As an adult, you have greater knowledge of how language works, and it is much easier to make associations between languages.

I really appreciated the science and studies included that backed up the authors in this book. I haven't read any other linguistic books, but I can imagine the genre has its fair share of 'this worked for me- it will work for you too!' However, it felt more academic than actionable. I would have preferred there to be more practical tips included, or perhaps for them to be condensed at the end of each chapter in a clearer way.

As a young adult, I found myself to be outside of this book's target audience. I think it would be much more beneficial for middle aged adults who have previously learned and forgotten languages. That being said, while I will not necessarily take many tips from the book in the long run, it did make me much more excited to keep learning french and (hopefully) become fluent. Overall, I would recommend this if you need a bit of motivation, but not necessarily if you want a book with actionable tips to improve.

908 reviews36 followers
November 3, 2015
Relatively new book out of MIT Press about second language learning in adults. I felt like this book couldn't really figure out its purpose: to serve as encouragement to adults to stop feeling like the ship has sailed on language learning, to be a summary of the relevant research, or to serve as a repository of tips on language learning.

It did pretty well on the first task, but it was only a small portion of the book - the first full chapter or so. As a summary of the relevant research, it did...okay...but I felt like there were some areas missing. A lot of the research was from more generic cognitive science studies of learning in general rather than language learning, which was fine, but I felt like the book "Make It Stick" covered these better. As for the last, the tips were so dispersed and embedded in the text, that it was hard to remember them without taking copious notes along the way. A summary at the end of each chapter would have been useful. And the book "Fluent Forever" is probably a better source for these.

It's entirely possible that if I hadn't recently read other books covering similar material, I would find this book just fine. But as it was, it didn't feel like there was a lot that was new, just their earnest reassurances to adult language learners that they too can learn another language, just as well as a toddler, if only they leverage on their developed cognitive skills.
Profile Image for Donna Craig.
879 reviews39 followers
September 12, 2021
2nd read: the audio book stood up to a second reading. This book won’t teach you a language; it will help you think about how you can learn a language as an adult. So helpful.

1st Read: Wow! I expected this audiobook to be dry and a bit boring, but I absolutely loved it! I tutor adults in ESL, and I cannot wait to try out the many ideas I got from this book. It really helped me understand the difference between the way a child acquires language and the way an adult can. Using your cognitive advantages as an adult, rather than attempting to learn the same way a child would, you can learn a language and become fluent, according to the authors. They lay out specific cognitive advantages and the methods adult students can use to harness them. They also explain why one might struggle with the methods used to teach children. By the time I finished reading it, this book had my brain ablaze with new ideas. And the desire to study languages more!
Profile Image for Radiantflux.
427 reviews404 followers
September 13, 2019
111th book for 2019.

As a cognitive scientist, who has learnt a second language in late adulthood, and who has started learning a third, I had hoped this book would both inspirational and offer practical advice. It does neither. Unfortunately, the cognitive science it offers is both too superficial to either be of interest to those interested in the science, or to those trying to gain valuable tips how to learn a language effectively.

For instance, there is no discussion of relative word frequencies, use of space-repetition, the value of native materials, whether grammar learning is an effective strategy etc. etc.

Really a waste of time, and a shame as their is a good book on this topic waiting to be written.

Profile Image for Katerina.
798 reviews682 followers
March 27, 2021
Книжка-воодушевлялка для взрослых, считающих, что никогда не выучат этот долбанный английский/французский/корейский/свой вариант.

Никакой cognitive science я особенно не приметила, и вообще сложилось впечатление, что авторы старались пересказать научные исследования так, чтобы получился хорошо продаваемый селф-хелп (по пять for example на один абзац, я прямо вздрагивать уже начала каждый раз). В итоге ни богу свечка, ни черту кочерга: ни практических советов, ни хорошего обзора литературы ждать не нужно.

С другой стороны, может, кому-то пригодится и этот простой набор наблюдений и вдохновляющих фраз: забывать слова — это нормально; учите лексику в контексте; не забывайте про прагматику; акцент — это не ужас-ужас, а часть вашей языковой идентичности; не только у детей хорошая память, надо только знать, как ей пользоваться. Смотрите, контрольная группа выучила сто слов, значит, и вы справитесь.

Конечно, справитесь, особенно если не будете лениться и учить слова за рулем или под звук работающего телевизора.
Profile Image for Kerstin.
Author 3 books25 followers
July 22, 2016
This review is an excerpt from my full review - you can get it along with my 10 pages of book notes at www.fluentlanguage.co.uk/blog/becomin...

Why It's Awesome
There are many language learning books out in the market that tell you all about how wonderful the author's methods are. Most successful polyglot-style books follow this system. The logic is that if following certain steps made the author fluent in another language, then you can do the same by copying the steps.

In Becoming Fluent, I detected none of this. The authors do work from their own experience in languages but never claim to know all the answers. Each chapter is based on a new aspect of language learning and gives a neutral summary of what the science says, followed by practical advice.

I've never used or endorsed the "copy a winner" approach, and I don't think it's quite how things work for language learners. Success in language learning is about more than just playing the game right. The more you learn and discover about yourself, your habits, your preferences and strengths in language learning, the more you will approach a real ability to learn any language quickly.

So for me, Becoming Fluent was an outstanding book about language learning because it doesn't tell you what exactly to do. This one is about empowering yourself to find your own perfect method.

What Wasn't So Great
Becoming Fluent is smart and thorough and scientific, which is a big rarity in language learning. It's great to read such a sensible voice in our field. The book comes at language learning from so many different angles that some great aspects get a little lost.

I would have liked the book's action-focused tips to be highlighted or separated from the main text, making it easier to find exactly how to put new insights into action. As it is, Becoming Fluent does require you to put in a few hours for reading, but this is time well spent.

Profile Image for Benny Lewis.
Author 18 books338 followers
April 14, 2016
There are many books about language learning in general, but it's great to finally see this scientifically sound account of second language acquisition. I was constantly nodding my head at things that I know to be true as an experienced language learner and coach to language learners, explained in a no-nonsense way drawing on many valid sources. Recommended for people who want to know the facts about adult foreign language acquisition.
Profile Image for Kalyn✨.
459 reviews58 followers
May 18, 2020
Nothing super new or unheard of, but interesting nonetheless! The cognitive science is for beginners and some of it is just common sense, so if you already know a bit then you may not be super satisfied. I personally didn't have an issue with it.

Becoming Fluent was pretty encouraging and I recommend it to any of you wishing to learn a second language! :-)
Profile Image for Derrick.
224 reviews4 followers
November 14, 2015
I really liked this book. I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't even want to learn a foreign language. Here's the kicker. The book is about cognitive science as applied to foreign language, not about foreign language with the use of cognitive science. The book can apply to an assortment of different situations if you only take time to sit and think about what the book is saying and how could this or that apply to situations outside of learning languages. It's not a difficult connection to make. The book did want me to become a cognitive scientist though. I didn't really know anything like this existed and now, in my mid-30's, I've figured out my life calling. Seriously though, its a good book. I listened to it on my commute. I will listen to it a second time, I may even go purchase a hard copy so I can go in and highlight certain areas and use it for reference in the future. I recommend this book to anyone who finds the human mind and how it works interesting.
Profile Image for Madame Histoire.
251 reviews5 followers
September 26, 2020
This is actually NOT a how-to guide to language learning, this is a book on the science behind language learning, which is why I found it fascinating, and actually different from (should I say complementary to) the other 3-4 guides to language learning I have read.
And although the authors give you a lot of the scientific terms of cognitive systems or methods, the book is overall easy to follow along and they give example to illustrate what they mean.
The fact that the author gave some reference to English, German and Korean (my 3 TLs) was the cherry on top!

-he realised that what he perceived as a lack of progress was a function of his own expectation -> measure it by what he didn't know yet= glass half empty perception
-memorisation (flashcards, learning texts by heart) are at a cognitive disadvantage for an adult learner and lead to demoralization
-metacognition : thinking about thinking
-metamemory : thinking about memory
-metalinguistic awareness : know how the language works (e.g. DO things with it, lie, joke, be polite etc) rather than just knowing the language itself
-strategic problem: wasting time peeping his studies rather than actually studying
-planning fallacy : misjudging how much time/effort/money it will take the accomplish a goal
-in mental simulation, progress focus planning (what it takes to reach goal) > outcome of what will happen once goal reached --> refuse stress and more helpful in reaching goal
-counterfactual thinking : occurs after the fact and focuses on what might have been
-rather than labeling all items in your home, better to remind yourself of each object you encounter in target language, if can't remember, look it up, then think of a way to associate this word with other ones in TL -> spoon -> "i need a spoon to eat cereals"
-fertilizer fallacy: if a little bit of fertilizer makes the plan grow, why not using all of it -> will actually burn plant -> don't give your brain root burn -> learning info a bit at a time (aka distributed practice) is superior to cramming (massed practice)
1-determine what is realistic
2-go public with your goals
3-find a study buddy
4-study at the same time each day
-self-efficacy: person's belief in her ability to perform a task, reach a goal, overcome obstacle (different to self-esteem which is about overall worth as an individual)
- if have feeling of low self-efficacy in language learning, then failing at it = self-fulfilling prophecy -> because you expect to fail, you are sabotaging your effort without realizing -> self-efficatcy is based on DOING rather than being and therefore CAN be transformed through learning
-self-handicapping (doing badly on purpose) & situational attribution (putting in situation in which you will fail, to be able to blame it on the situation, e.g. drinking before an exam -> "would have been ok if I hadn't been hangover)
phomene = sound of language / grapheme = written form of the sound -> don't don't always correspond e.g. in English FISH could have been GHOTI (enough, women, nation)
-overgeneralise: when using a new word/structure a lot, sometimes inappropriately
- 복잡하다 = complicated "pork chop"
-fossilisation = can do most things in TL and no longer have the need for improving, natives don't correct you anymore bc small mistakes only -> leads to slower improvement and even going backwards
-rhetorical question : making a statement + asking for agreement -> in korean adding 죠 to root form of adj/verbs -> using this allow more natural way of speaking than just statements
-idiomatic expressions well worth learning = improves proficiency + cultural awareness -> in K the expression "a pie in the sky" (something that you hope will happen but is very unlikely to happen) is "a picture of a rice cake" 그림의 떡 (Something you desire, but can’t have or afford -> e.g. 세계 여행을 가고 싶지만 그림의 떡이다) -> this idiom uses easy words and can be easily learn early in
-American's "idle chitchat" when talking to strangers in waiting places, elevator etc bc uncomfortable with silence -> they don't understand it can be seen as non-meaningless to non-Americans, can be seen as rude, overly forward, an attempt to establish intimacy or misunderstood as the beginning of a genuine relationship
-high-context cultures (Japan, China, Korea...) leave many things unsaid, as same-language speakers share same cultural context, silence has a meaning, have speech style set up as "in group" and "out group" -> say foreigner as "outside country person" in JCK, or saying "our country" in K and if an american says "our country" it might be mistaken as meaning Korea still.
-low context cultures must adjust when moving to high-context cultures -> be prepared than much of the background information's implicit, that their use of the language makes them an outsider, and may be considered rude when asking too many questions or try to get to the bottom on an issue
-bilinguals > monolinguals on selective attention and multitasking but take longer to retrieve words and have smaller vocabularies
-feeling that native speakers speaks fast -> when one listens to native language, it sounds like the speaker pauses slightly between words but it's an perceptual illusion -> perceptual and cognitive systems are able to segment the sounds into words because they know all the words, unlike a non-native
-on accent -> if issues, then work around by chantings words or giving more context -> when Richard says 번역하다 "to translate", it often sounds like 폭력 "violence", but if he says "translator", it becomes clear because there isn't a word for "violencer"
-false friends = false cognates -> Menü in German isn't the Speisekarte but the day's special, a Puff isn't a burst of air but a bordello and Gift isn't a present but poison.
-Anglo-Norman (dialect of Old French) terms into English commoner language due to Norman invasion still there-> a lot in legal docs : last will and testament, cease and desist, aid and abet are the same idea in both languages -> many Romance terms came to replace Germanic terms, leaving pairs of synonyms : Moon (germanic) and Lunar (romance)
-cognate = similarities in similar languages e.g. Main (FR), mano (ES- IT)...
-speaker's receptive voc : know the meaning of but might not actually write or speak -> a college educated speaker of English has a receptive voc of about 17 000 words
-low-road transfer (use well-reheard material in another context) is useful for scripted activities e.g. greetings, politeness -> emphasizes outcome over process
-high-road transfer requires actively looking for pattern and connections in the material -> takes more time and effort but better payoff bc flexible -> emphases process over outcome
-Roger hearing dialect German and Hoch Deutch between switch on and off -> missed the chance to take advantage of high-road transfer in trying to to look for similarities and differences between this and the Hoch Deutsch he learnt
-minimising distractions and attention switching during study can decrease cognitive load
-many believe that reading out loud in TL will improve reading and speaking abilities and fluency, and while helpful, it is a shallow task as student focuses on the pronunciation and aren't processing the text deeply so the memorization of the voc and content will be poor
-similarly, hearing and parroting is also shallow -> would be better to paraphrase what you heard because then it's meaning + sound
-many believe that writing over a word over and over would create muscle memory aka better retention, but again it's shallow -> breaking the word apart into meaningful components would be a deeper task
-maintenance rehearsal (repeating a phone number that you just heard) = very ineffective way to retain information
-in contract, elaborative rehearsal -> process info at deeper level and allow better long-term memory -> by focusing on meaning, e.g. for vocal, rather than simple repetition, it's better to paraphrase, thinking about how word connect to other words, or how the word relate to yourself (selfish -> are you selfish?)
- Ebbinghaus and memorization of nonsense syllables : forgetting curve -> retained only 60% after 20 min, 40% after 1h...
-on cognitive overload : driving with music on/conversation while on easy roads and turning it off because driving task has become more difficult and here conversation or music would put you on cognitive overload ; have time pressure will show how much of the student's ability has become automatic -> time tests are better for high-proficinecy student but not can impair the low-ones
-on interference effects : when studying a list of voc (nouns) and feeling frustrated about making loads of mistakes, instead of giving up, it is better to shirt study to a different set of words (adj or verbs) or task (e.g. to grammar). when you will return to the nouns, your recall might have improved -> this is called a release from a proactive interference -> so, it's wise to study different material types over short period of time rather than one on a long one -> e.g. rather than 30min voc and 30 min grammar, it is better to do 15 min voc, 15 min grammar x2 and then take a break
-positive info gets remembered more easily than negative (in voc, grammar, content...)
-encoded specificity : when your memory is better when the context in which you learnt the material matches the one in which you are ask to remember the material -> to lessen the impact of encoded specificity, take advantage of distributed practice effect -> if you have 2h study time, then study 1h, do something totally different, come back and study material again is better + study same material in different contact -> this doesn't mean at home and then at library but rather, study material through notes and then study them trough practice with native speaker
-keep in mind that with distributed practice, you will do worse every time you return to material -> this is normal and is what you want to happen bc the goal is to give you the opportunity to forget and relearn at a new time -> relearning is after than learning and the material is reinforced in a different way
-memory palace technique
-mnemonic devices -> "my very educated mother just served us nine pies" for Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto

Profile Image for Philip.
335 reviews31 followers
May 31, 2021
I thought this book was pretty good. It manages to both inspire confidence and manage expectations. That's impressive. I found that the authors managed to cobble together a surprisingly good and solid read that's enjoyable just because. “Becoming Fluent” is worth reading for the reading alone, never mind if you actually have a desire to learn another language or not.

The book is well written and well put together. A few enjoyable anecdotes, sprinkled in among the explanations of how we learn languages, even managed to provoke a chuckle or two from me. Well played language nerds!
Author 38 books54 followers
July 24, 2016
As someone who has learned and forgotten and vaguely recalled perhaps a dozen languages over the years, this book on learning a language at any age was a delight and packed with information on the latest science and research on learning. The main point is that you are never too old to learn a language and in fact the older learner has some advantages over the younger ones. Of course, I read that section very closely. The experiences described did match many of my own as I returned to a language I had learned some years ago and set aside. It is coming back and now I know why after reading this book.

The book is short, humorous at times, and perfectly clear in all the science reviewed. Highly recommended for those who love the idea of learning a second (or third) language later in life or are just interested in what cognitive science is up to.
January 20, 2022
Overall a very positive and feel-good book with some decent tips in as to how to make learning another language easier. But it definitely falls into the trap that cognitive science often does, where it overexplains facts and tips with complicated theories just to say something that the average person has figured out very long ago. Still, an enjoyable read
Profile Image for Sejnod.
10 reviews1 follower
February 17, 2021
Fun read! I’d say the info provided in this book is useful if one has no experience self studying a language. At this point in my journey, I feel time is all I need to reach the level I want to be at. Nice to keep in mind these things for the future!
Profile Image for Carlos Martinez.
328 reviews193 followers
June 16, 2022
Dummies' guide to cognitive psychology, plus some hints and motivation for learning languages as an adult. I've already read a fair few dummies' guides to cognitive psychology, and had already come across (and applied) most of the hints for language learning. That is to say: I didn't really get much out of this (and listened it on a whim because it was free on Audible!). But others might find it useful - particularly if their specific need is to move past the stage of "I'm too old to learn a new language."
Profile Image for Sophia.
230 reviews2 followers
May 15, 2017
I started it because I'm addicted to linguistics. When I saw the authors were connected with my alma mater I was really excited.
I had learned a lot of this material in my classes although there was some new tidbits of information in here for me. It was also nice to have citations and places to look up new information. Not everyone majors in psychology though.

I found that this information was more academic and less immediately implementable. The authors seemed to intend for the info to be very down to earth, based in science, and ready for the reader to implement. I feel in terms of usability, the information was not direct enough for all readers. I already employ many of these study habits myself because of my major, however, many people need things more explicitly spelled out. I think a recap section at the end with very direct and actionable bullet points would be a nice touch.

I also felt like the book ended rather abruptly. I hit the turn page button and it was over and I was like WOAH.
Glad I read it though. Plan to refer to it in the future. Enjoyed looking at a few different matters from perspectives I was not used to. The discussion on cognitive overload was particularly useful to me.
Something that I found interesting was the chapter discussing schemata, I have not had much difficulty dealing with this. Perhaps a little bit in Japan with clerks in department stores but other than that not much... yet. I also haven't been homesick or culture shocked yet either but maybe that will come soon. I hope not.
Profile Image for Richard Thompson.
1,757 reviews86 followers
January 19, 2019
I often dream of relearning the two foreign languages that I once knew well -- German and Russian -- so that I could once again read great works of literature with ease in their original languages. I also think that it would be fun to learn ancient Greek to read Homer and Plato in their own words, or maybe Hebrew, or, perhaps, since I live in Los Angeles, it would be good to move my elementary knowledge of Spanish to fluency. A few years ago, I tried to teach myself Spanish, and it seemed to be going well until I tried to move up to listening to Spanish language radio and television and was so overwhelmed with the flow of words that I let the project drop (at least for a while).

This book is a great source of encouragement for me and for people who share my language ambitions. It convincingly puts forward the thesis that, although certain lanuguage learning abilities are reduced as we age, such as memorization and accentless pronunciation, they are more than compensated for by experience and knowledge of the world that older people generally have in greater measure than the young. So you are never too old to learn a new language; you just have to use different techniques that play to the strengths of a mature mind.

There was nothing really new in the learning techniques that the authors suggest or in the arguments that they use to support their thesis, but the book was well written and convincingly argued, and it gave me a message that I wanted to receive.
Profile Image for Stamatios Mantzouranis.
185 reviews27 followers
January 7, 2016
I picked up this book because I have studied many foreign languages in my life, but I forget them faster than I learn them! After having read Becoming Fluent, I feel I have taken away a lot of useful techniques that I can apply to my learning. Some of them I have been using subconsciously (such as leveraging my old knowledge to form associations with the new), while others I've been doing wrong (such as setting strict studying routines).

Overall, I found this book clearly-written, well-structured and very valuable, and I would recommend it to foreign language learners of all levels. Here's however the catch: the authors approach this subject from the cognitive science angle. I personally found it very interesting to learn about meta-cognitive models, scientific findings and what they mean to our daily lives, but the studying tips come at the end of each chapter and can be a bit vague at times, so potential readers should keep this in mind.
Profile Image for Chad Maddox.
2 reviews
July 4, 2016
Honestly, this book was not what I thought it was. I was looking for something that could help identify ways to better learn a foreign language using cognitive science, as the title of the book suggests. But the title is definitely misleading. The first part of the book was a bit more geared for that purpose, but I left with basically no techniques, tricks, or methods to apply to my language learning endeavor. If you are interested in cognitive science, then this will certainly be an interesting book. If you are looking for useful tips on how to more effectively learn a foreign language, look elsewhere. There are many other good books on the subject.
Profile Image for Kristen.
137 reviews3 followers
February 1, 2017
Much of this book serves as a cheerleader for adult language learners (You can do it!), which -- anyone trying to learn a foreign language certainly needs along the way. In addition, it explains the science and function of the adult mind and how to use them to your linguistic-expanding advantage. I discovered a few new insights, and found that most of the concepts rung true -- as I have already observed, experienced, and learned from them over the past few years of studying Italian and Spanish, myself.
Profile Image for Ofelia.
38 reviews
January 15, 2016
It helps, if you're over 35 and have no idea of what your cognitive limitations are. I was expecting a plan-a strategy-for how to tackle a language, but the book itself is not bad. It mostly focuses of tricks and strategies for a certain mindset to tackle a language. So, while this book was not for me, I'm sure that people who have an inkling to learn a language, but feel they don't have the capabilities will find this book highly helpful.
Profile Image for Blythe Musteric.
Author 2 books12 followers
November 4, 2019
Not sure if this will help you become fluent in a second language, but I think it will motivate you to start studying. The authors will convince you that your age is not a barrier to learning. You’ll learn tips for studying as well as the cognitive science that backs up their claims.

I had a second language acquisition class in grad school, so the content wasn’t new to me, but I still enjoyed reading it. I recommend it to my fellow MATESOLers! It’ll bring back memories. :)
Profile Image for Laura.
387 reviews6 followers
July 24, 2016
Interesting book that refutes common misconceptions about the disadvantages of being an adult (rather than child) foreign language learner, and tips about how to tip the odds in one's favor. More detailed practical examples would have been nice, but this was a quick and entertaining read.
Profile Image for M(^-__-^)M_ken_M(^-__-^)M.
341 reviews74 followers
March 8, 2019
It's all about learning and how to learn a language, as an adult language student, learn the idioms, practice with a buddy. Practice with fluent speakers, speak it home. All good hints, many more tips in it.
268 reviews
June 3, 2016
More encouraging than strictly useful, though encouragement can be useful.
Profile Image for Colin.
1,347 reviews33 followers
April 22, 2019
I just sort of filleted this one for ideas, rather than read every word. It's looking at how adults learn languages, and how their acquired skills can compensate for the quickness and brain plasticity children have. It has some interesting "meta tips", in it. In other words, it doesn't suggest any specific tools or actions or methods, but does talk about the kinds of ways adult minds learn languages and what general, broad strategies you can deploy to help things stick in your mind. Where it finds evidence lacking (eg that learning a language can stave off dementia) it is clear on exactly what does and doesn't happen, and can be quite reassuring if you're the kind of person who thinks they are past it, unable to learn or just uniquely shit and untalented at language acquisition.
In a sense it gives a lot of backing to the strategy often called "language-hacking", which aims at getting people to grapple with the language more in a range of settings and study it less, but there are important differences. For example, it seems to be against the idea of massive input, and in favour of "little and often". That's not something you'll hear in language hacking circles.
Quite interesting if you like to know the theory behind what you're doing but if you really want to get stuck into a language you're probably better off with something more hands-on like Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis
Profile Image for J.N. Estey.
Author 1 book
November 3, 2022
I found this book much more interesting from a psychological perspective than a language learning one.

Those who are learning a language might find some aspects of this book valuable—some aspects are insightful, others motivating—but the book as a whole isn't focused on tips and tricks. It's an overview of cognitive
psychology as it applies to foreign language learning.

Which, as someone with a B.S. in psychology and an M.S. in social work, I'm here for! But not everyone who studies a foreign language has similar interests so it's worth knowing that before jumping in.

Some of what I learned from this book:
- There are benefits to learning a language as an adult, even if the process of acquisition is generally more difficult.
- Language skills are transferable. You're fluent in Spanish? Learning French will be easier because of the linguistic similarities.
- The further a language is from the linguistic branch of your native tongue the more difficult and time consuming (generally) learning it will be.
- Human memory is a fascinating thing. We tend to forget things quickly, but will retain some knowledge long term. So if you forgot a lot of what you learned in high school Japanese, if you decide to pick it up again you have an advantage over someone who's studying it for the
first time.
- There are long term cognitive benefits to foreign language study, seemingly neuro protective effects.

And this is just me speaking unrelated to the book, but shout out to the immigrants and children of immigrants who knew all of this already and generally don't receive the praise they deserve for knowing two whole ass languages and cultures and being a living bridge between both. Y'all are amazing.
Profile Image for Karin.
1,149 reviews27 followers
April 11, 2018
If you're thinking of learning a new language, grab this easy read. lots of good tips and hints, recommended for fans of thinking fast and slow as it really goes into cognitive science.
Profile Image for Brian Z. Hamilton.
29 reviews1 follower
February 25, 2023
This book has some great principles for learning new languages, along with some perspectives on what to prioritize in language learning that I’d never thought about. For instance, while idioms in another language may be difficult to understand when new to a language, they make your usage of the language more natural and the experience of learning it more fun, providing greater motivation to keep up the language learning.

Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised that a book on language learning went into Grice’s Maxims (which I’d only ever heard about from a Tom Scott YT video) and the Zone of Proximal Development (which I’ve only ever heard talked about by Jordan Peterson), both of which are just evidence to me that this book is both accurate and practical in its information and approach to language learning.
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