Published: Nov, 17, 2022 | By: Lucas Weaver
There is a wide range of online English courses for adults to help you hone your language skills for your career and life. The frustrating part is, learning a language as an adult is much more challenging than as a child. So how do you learn English online effectively for lifelong results that will last?
Based on proven scientific research, optimal adult learning involves actively changing the brain to respond to stimuli and produce new neural connections that promote memory. Therefore, we must understand the following:
The science of adult learning
How the approach to learning a language today is quickly changing due to new neuroscience
Practical ways to use neuroscience in an online English course
This article will help adults make better use of supportive language learning methods for the best learning experience their online English courses.
Learning a language is challenging when you're an adult, but a proven encouraging fact is that your brain is not hardwired and CAN change throughout your lifetime. Adults tend to use the current information and expand upon it, unlike children, who act more like sponges. When an adult actively engages in learning, the brain can function at a higher level of effectiveness and efficiency than in repetitive tasks.
Students learn in school because they are in an environment that encourages them to. They are put in a classroom with students of the same age and knowledge level. Most of the time they spend in classrooms is dedicated only to learning, with recess times declining more each year.
Their motivation usually comes from external sources, meaning that kids do their coursework to please their parents and teachers until they mature and see the value of learning itself. The situation changes after graduation.
When adults decide to learn something, such as the English language, it's usually because you think it's essential and might help you advance in your career. Our goals and interests are what motivate us to learn as adults.
When it comes to improving your English skills, the ways that adults and younger students learn are very different. Adults tend to add to their knowledge and make the most of what they've learned.
Because all adults have different levels of knowledge, often some students in your class will have trouble keeping up and some will get bored because they already know the material.
So, how can you make adults want to learn a language?
People rarely stop to think about the complex processes in their brain when they pay attention to something. But it is an essential topic for language learners in English lessons who often focus on the superficial parts of their courses and don't take the time to learn how the brain works.
After all, paying attention is the first step in learning, so English teachers need to know how to use best practices based on research from neuroscience to provide solutions to ensure students in their English classes are paying attention in the best way possible.
At the same time, adult learners also need to understand how their brain works when learning. The brain also connects new information to what it already knows. This helps people understand further information and get a clearer picture of more significant ideas. Lastly, it helps people stay focused on the essential things for the proper length of time.
This can be hard to do if the subject isn't interesting (and which is why we limit our online English courses to 90 minutes).
Every time we learn something new—not every time we come across something new, but every time we process new information that we try to store in our memory—a new small "branch" forms in our brain.
But this physical change can only happen when new stimuli (information) are connected to an existing neuron. This is why it's vital for you in your online English courses to connect to your own experiences.
Put simply, learning is the physical act of adding new connections between neurons in the neural networks we already have.
There are 100 billion neurons in the brain, which are the brain cells that send and receive electrical and chemical signals and transmit information. That's more than the number of stars you can see with your bare eyes at night.
A neuron is a cell that sends messages to other neurons by sending nerve impulses, which are like electrical signals (Zull, 2002). The most interesting thing about a neural network is that each change you make in one represents a physical change in the brain's structure.
For example, when you write, some neurons in your brain send the message "move fingers" to other neurons. This message then travels through the nerves (which are like cables) to your fingers.
So, the electrical signals sent from one neuron to another let you write, think, see, jump, talk, compute, and everything else. Each neuron can connect to up to 10,000 other neurons, so your brain has many connections that look like a dense spider web.
When you learn something new, your brain goes through critical physical changes, such as making new connections between neurons. Neuroplasticity - your brain's ability to change in response to stimuli - can create, strengthen, weaken, or break connections between neurons.
The more you train, the stronger these links get. As your connections get stronger, the messages (nerve impulses) are sent faster, which makes them more effective. This is how you improve at anything you learn, like reading, drawing, playing football, etc.
Unlike when you're a child and your brain is highly plastic, after the age of 26, you have to find strategies to activate neuroplasticity to learn new skills effectively.
Since learning happens in your brain, it's best to follow the best-structured English courses based on the latest neuroscience, not outdated ones. You've probably heard that children find it easier to learn a new language than adults do. But there is still hope for adults who want to learn a new language.
A recent MIT study found that you need to start learning a language by the age of 10 to understand the grammar structure as well as a native speaker.
Language learning between the ages of 10-18 still occurs very quickly compared to adults, but you will not become as proficient as a native speaker.
The same study also found that people over 18 can still learn a foreign language quickly, but they will never be as good as a native speaker. The reason for this decline is not entirely known, but the most common belief is the decline in neuroplasticity in adulthood.
English learners may improve their comprehension of the material covered in an online English course for adults by using specific tactics before, during, and after the course. The objective is to produce the most favorable conditions possible to fortify and further solidify the connections between your neurons.
In general, maintaining neuronal activity will allow you to make the most of the time you spend in your English course or studying at home, which will, in turn, help your brain learn more effectively.
If you're over 18 and want to learn English or any other language, keep reading for effective ways to start immediately!
Alertness improves our ability to concentrate. There are several different methods to maintain a state of alertness, but the most effective one is when both the brain and the rest of the body create norepinephrine, which is the name for adrenaline when it's in the brain.
Before you begin studying, there are several things you should do to become familiar with your environment. For instance, taking numerous slow, deep breaths followed by holding each one.
You can also review your motivation for learning English at this time. If you wrote a motivational statement, you can read it aloud and become alert.
(Tip: To create a motivation statement for yourself, write down right now what your top 3 reasons are for taking your English course. Put it somewhere you can easily access when you find it hard to stay consistent.)
Additionally, while consuming caffeine might seem like an easy way to get alert, it's not recommended at this time before your lessons start—more on that below.
The next step is to focus the mind, which helps direct attention to the specific areas of our brain we want to change. You should be able to achieve mental attention after you've succeeded in focusing visually.
Before starting your online learning session, try to stare at a wall or screen for 30 to 60 seconds. This activates neural circuits, which release the acetylcholine responsible for making specific neurons in our brain more active than others.
You'll be surprised by how much effort this takes. You can also listen to white noise for a few minutes, as this has been proven to help focus the mind before learning.
As neurons need to be activated repeatedly for learning, you should do as many repetitions as you can safely in a single learning session. For some kinds of learning, like learning music scales, "repetition" means doing the same thing repeatedly. Regular practice or rehearsal will activate your neurons and make you understand and retrieve information.
The reason why we put so much emphasis on speaking time in our English classes is so that you can generate as many repetitions as possible. You can always do bookwork at home, so the majority of your class time should be spent on doing guided repetitions of the English skills you want to improve.
Making mistakes while learning a language is terrific because it increases the activation of the neural circuits that also increase alertness. It makes sense, right? If you perform something correctly, why should your brain take notice?
When we make errors, we feel stressed, but that is just an increase in attention that puts us in a much better place to perform and execute learning-related behaviors on the next attempt.
The activation of neural networks leads to an increase in awareness. Don't worry too much about these because mistakes or errors are part of the learning process, so you should embrace them. Making mistakes will help uncover gaps in your learning and highlight which aspects of your course you still need to concentrate on.
Whether you're learning English online or in a classroom, it's critical that your English classes are taught in an environment in which you're encouraged to make mistakes and get correction from your teacher.
Some English tutors focus too much on building speaking comfort and confidence too early. This can be counterproductive because if you get too comfortable speaking English incorrectly, it can be much harder to correct later on.
If you're too comfortable in your English courses, this is actually a bad sign. You should be feeling moderate levels of stress, and actually feeling a bit exhausted after the lessons.
Moderate stress is associated with high task performance, whereas mild and extreme stress is detrimental to learning. This can lead to some unusual ways to get more practice and learn faster.
For instance, playing unfamiliar music on your computer before joining an online English class can actually benefit your learning session. The unfamiliar music can raise your stress levels ever so slightly, causing you to pay more attention to your the content in your courses.
Overloading your brain with information will not ensure learning. The neural circuits that control rewards, which are all chemical rewards in the brain, are very close to the circuits that control motivation and the desire to do things like learning.
By taking rests during learning sessions, you can space out the activation of neurons. Your brain can create more efficient connections built during your practice sessions when you give it time to rest. You learn more quickly and have a lower risk of forgetting what you've learned because of the "gap effect."
Studies on humans have shown that we can increase our learning by 10X using the "gap effect."
If we pause every 10 seconds and do nothing during the pause, neurons in the hippocampus and neocortex, which are involved in learning and memory, engage the same patterns of neural activity that happened during the actual activity.
So whether learning English online, doing gymnastics, practicing music, or training other specific motor skills, we can make the learning process up to 10X faster using this technique.
However, this varies per individual, so what works for you might not work for another person.
The significance of predictable benefits diminishes gradually over time. Unexpected incentives cause a significant release of dopamine, which is essential to maintaining motivation and learning intensity.
Adrenaline is a hormone that prepares your sympathetic nervous system to fight or run away. Your body makes it when it feels threatened or stressed. When you're in danger, adrenaline is a beautiful thing to have to go through your body.
Because of adrenaline, people have been known to lift cars off of children and run faster than they ever have. It sends more blood to your muscles, which releases sugar into your bloodstream and sets off a chain of other effects that make your body more alert and better able to fight off an attacker or run away from a flash flood.
To improve your memory, you should experience a surge of adrenaline in the brain, also known as norepinephrine, shortly after participating in a learning activity. You can try high-intensity exercises like running and hiking, as well as taking ice baths and cold showers of shorter duration.
You can also spike adrenaline via chemical means using caffeine. However, the key here is avoiding caffeine before your learning session. The positive effect of the adrenaline boost after a learning session depends on your baseline adrenaline level when you finish the lesson.
Suppose you consume caffeine before your English course. In that case, this raises your baseline adrenaline level, which means you need to drink even more caffeine after your learning session to achieve the positive effects post-learning.
A post-learning nap of just 20 minutes within 4 hours after completing a learning session can result in a 50% boost in neuroplasticity. Non-sleep deep rest provides the brain with the opportunity to mark the areas of the brain that need to be rewired later.
In an analogy from neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman, the neurons and neural pathways that need improvement are identified when you make mistakes during learning. During NSDR, your brain uses a highlighter to highlight all those neurons so they can be rewired later, thus improving your skills over time.
Two studies done on humans and published in the last two years show that shallow naps and/or NSDR can increase the speed and depth of learning. This is an easy habit to start. Within 4 hours of finishing a learning bout, do a short NSDR protocol.
If you're taking an online English course, try and take some time within a few hours after your lesson ends to hide away somewhere in your home and do a quick 20-minute NSDR session. Sometimes the break helps other areas of life as well.
For your brain to reactivate the connections between the active neurons throughout the day, you need to give it a night of proper sleep between practice sessions.
Getting a good night's sleep in between periods of practice will allow your brain to reactivate the connections between the neurons that it has been stimulating during the day.
All that hard work you've done for your English courses up to this point: getting alert, making mistakes, the post-learning adrenaline boost, and the NSDR, have all led to this moment.
During sleep is when all of the neuroplasticity changes can take place.
Sleep is the time when all of your skills and abilities are improved. So put simply: you're wasting all your other efforts in your English courses if you don't get enough sleep.
The idea of neuroplasticity and its connection to language learning helps explain how the human brain changes over time. It also shows that, to some extent, we can control this change. The problem is that most of the time, we don't.
It may be hard to learn a new language as an adult because nothing can replace the environment and brain of a child. But it can be done if you have patience and keep trying.
You need more than just your lips, teeth, and tongue to speak a new language. You also need your ears, eyes, and mind to be flexible. You have to listen carefully and then copy what you hear.
"What is the best way to learn English?"
"How can I learn new words the fastest?"
"How can I speak like a native?"
"Do I need to learn about grammar?"
Language "hackers" always ask questions like this.
Everyone wants to use the latest and greatest study techniques so they can learn a language quickly and speak it well.
We understand that desire. Here at the Weaver School, we're constantly evaluating new research and teaching methods for our English courses, keeping track of what is showing results and how our students can improve even faster.
The English language may not be the most difficult language in the world, but the core of all of our students' success is still their hard work.
We put together comprehensive learning programs for language students from start to finish so that you don't have to do it yourself. You just have to follow your teacher's instructions and put in the necessary work on your own.
Sign up for an account at the Weaver School when you're ready to start learning English on the internet's most complete language-learning platform. Whether it's business English, medical English, or general English, we've got a custom program for you.
With our online English courses, you'll start making progress you can see FAST with our expert teachers and course structures based on the proven neuroscience of language learning.
Lucas Weaver founded The Weaver School in 2016. He's passionate about using the latest learnings in neuroscience and education to create the best language learning experience possible for our students, so they can quickly build effective language learning habits that will last for years. Lucas is a graduate of Texas A&M University and after 7 years of living in the Netherlands, he is currently traveling through Southeast Asia while learning their languages along the way.
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