45. Top Tips from Teachers for Adult Language Learners

Can you guess all the languages that are welcoming you to this podcast? Answers at the end of these episode notes.

Take this short quiz:

  1. When adult language learners start out, they might sound (a) like a native speaker, (b) like Taylor Swift, (c) like they’re just starting out.
  2. One challenge adult language learners have is that they (a) might surpass their kids, (b) might sound like Taylor Swift, (c) act like adults.
  3. When encountering speakers of the language they’re learning, adults should (a) run away, (b) see if they sound like Taylor Swift, (c) be brave and say something in the language.

Congratulations! This is one time when getting straight C’s means you’ve got this. Now check out all our top tips from language teachers on how adults can learn another language, even though adults are…well, old. Or at least, older.


Listen on iTunes by clicking here: America the Bilingual by Steve Leveen on iTunes. Or on SoundCloud here. Steve comments on Twitter as well.

Meet The Experts

Our thanks to the 19 global-language teachers and members of ACTFL, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, who shared their sage advice in this episode. Please scroll down to read about each of the voices you’ll hear in the podcast.

And if, after listening, you’d like another way to remember every tip from these teachers, just click here and we’ll send you a downloadable PDF of the tip sheet.

Paloma Borreguero is a Spanish teacher at Lakeside School in Seattle, Washington, and the head of the school’s languages department. (This private school is Bill Gates’s alma mater—and no, he didn’t study another language, much to his regret as an adult.)

Lesley Chapman is the department chair for world languages at Sycamore High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Marialuisa Di Stefano is a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who is developing materials for teachers in dual-language Spanish-English classes. Her first language is Italian.

Elvis Etah teaches French at Natchez High School in Mississippi and speaks two languages of Cameroon, his home country. Hear more from Elvis in Episode 44, “Africa’s Relaxed Multilingualism.”

Martin Fameni teaches French at Woodgrove High School in Virginia. He also speaks Spanish and six of the languages of his native Cameroon, in West Africa. Hear more from Martin in Episode 44, “Africa’s Relaxed Multilingualism.”

Ryan Grusenski teaches German at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Effie Evans Hall has taught German in Loudoun County, Virginia, schools for more than 20 years. She learned Spanish as an adult.

Debby Heath teaches Spanish at Lakeside School in Seattle, Washington. She studied Japanese in her forties.

Aviva Kadosh is an instructor of Hebrew at the Lainer School in Los Angeles. Hear more from Aviva in  Episode 31,“Not Your Uncle’s Language Class.”

Greg Lamping teaches Portuguese at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio (and may possibly be the only teacher of high school Portuguese in the state). As department chair, he hired the school’s first two Chinese teachers and decided he should learn Chinese. He was 50. Greg and his wife adopted a girl from Peru, who is now in her thirties, who spoke only Quechua (the language of the Inkas) until she was about 7.

Dr. Frances Mecartty is a professor of Spanish at the Pingry School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

Petra Petry teaches languages at the college level. She speaks Italian, Spanish, Russian and Czech. English is the most recent language she’s learned.

Amelia Richter teaches Spanish in Wheeling, West Virginia, and is president of the West Virginia Foreign Language Teacher’s Association (WVFLTA).

Dr. Julie Sellers is associate professor of Spanish at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

Kashika Singh is a lecturer at Indiana University Bloomington who teaches elementary, intermediate and advanced-level Hindi and Urdu.

Regina Symonds teaches French at Triton High School north of Boston, Massachusetts.

William Yepes-Amaya  teaches Spanish at Belmont Day School near Boston, Massachusetts. He learned English as an adult.

Edward Zarrow is an award-winning teacher of Latin at Westwood High School in Massachusetts. Hear more from Dr. Z, as he’s known, in Episode 23, “In Case You Thought Latin Was Dead….”

Jacqueline Zarrow is a doctoral candidate at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, who speaks French, Spanish and Greek.


The America the Bilingual podcast is part of the Lead with Languages campaign of ACTFL—The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

This episode was written by Mim Harrison, the editorial and brand director of the America the Bilingual project, and edited by Fernando Hernández, who also does the sound design and mixing. Steve Leveen is the executive producer and host. Our social media maestro is Caroline Doughty. Beckie Rankin is the podcast’s associate producer. Graphic arts are created by Carlos Plaza Design Studio. The team at Daruma Tech powers our website. Meet the America the Bilingual team—including our bark-lingual mascot, Chet—here.

Support for the America the Bilingual project comes from the Levenger Foundation.

Music in this episode, “Quasi Motion” by Kevin MacLeod, was used with a Creative Commons Attribution License. Our thanks to Epidemic Sound for helping us make beautiful music together.

Answers to the “welcome” question

The languages featured in the image at the start of these episode notes are saying “welcome” in, from top to bottom…

Left-hand column: Georgian, Russian, German, Hindi, Latin, Korean, Spanish, Turkish and Dutch

Right-hand column: Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Italian, Bengali, Hebrew, English, Greek, Japanese, Filipino and Persian

Give yourself an A+ for effort if you guessed more than one!