Episode 83 – You are Invited to… Succeed as an Adult Language Learner

Episode 83 Succeed As An Adult Language Learner
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 83 - You are Invited to... Succeed as an Adult Language Learner

“Most adults feel they might not be good at language. And I am here to tell you everybody is, because as you often say, Norah, it’s the human experience. It’s what our brains are designed to do and language learning science tells us that we can…The science is out there; we can do it, our brains are designed for this. And there are several pieces to that puzzle, but we can become just as proficient and just as fluent.”

As a current, future, or potential adult langage learner (I’m cheerleading you on! Go for it!) you can find encouragement and information in many different places. Access articles and resources that move your spirit and meets your needs; talk to encouraging people; remember that language learning is a process and at every stage along the way, including from your very first days of study, you are connecting in new ways to more people and opening more doors to your own future.

If you want to hear more from your new friend in your search for adult learning opportunities, Elizabeth Mack, you can check out her biography which also provides resources and links for you. You can also listen to my first conversation with Elizabeth, Episode 74, getting a little deeper into her experiences, realizations about her own life and language, and commitment — much like the path you are on!

And check out the language-learning and language-engagement opportunities on the special page of my website, You are invited to… Come back often to see the resources and options provided there for you and for others you may know who are looking for things to learn, communities with which to engage, and placesand needs to serve — all in relation to the human miracle of language.

If you’d like an overview of the standards and programs outlines to which Elizabeth refers in this episode, scales and objectives that are used in both K-16 educational settings and adult learning, check out the resources of the national organization, ACTFL.

Want to dive directly into encouragement as you look to learn or grow language in your life as an adult?

First, check out that important insight Elizabeth shared about hearing (aural) first…. and I love the title: How to Teach Old Ears New Tricks – Scientific American . The article shares encouraging gems like this:

Our brain struggles to categorize the new sounds in each word—was it Seung, Seong or Sung? —and without the ability to do so accurately, the words do not stick in memory. That aural roadblock is one of the reasons that learning a language as an adult can be so challenging. Fortunately, researchers are starting to find ways to overcome this hurdle. If we train our ears for a few hours before diving into vocabulary and phrases, learning a language can become easier than we ever imagined….overall, a few hours of [feedback] ear training is a tremendously effective tool for improving listening comprehension, memorization and pronunciation…and listening to a broad array of speakers will train your brain faster and let you more reliably transfer that knowledge to the real world.

Our brains can also learn new tricks! Check out this quote and its article, The Effects of Second Language Acquisition on the Brain | by Shehab Ali | The Startup | Medium

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s tendency to undergo structural reconfiguration in response to environmental stimulus, cognitive demand or behavioural experience. Recent research has begun to examine neuroplasticity as a function of language acquisition. The evidence uncovered suggests that learning and using multiple languages induces changes in brain anatomy including functional neural patterns. These changes can occur rapidly and regardless of age.

Rapidly! Regardless of age! Now that’s encouraging!

There is so much research on the powerful and healthy effects of language learning and multiple language use on the brain. Geek out! But another thing to get excited about as an adult learner — and to share with young people in your lives, too, so they don’t miss out — is the door of opportunity that opens in the world for those with multiple languages. Check out this important study: MakingLanguagesOurBusiness_ExecSummary.pdf (leadwithlanguages.org)

Enjoy a visual representation from page 8 of the study’s findings:

Whew. So much to know and be encouraged by.

But I end with this, though it is I believe the most important: learn and grow your languages because you are a human being on a finite planet surrounded by billions of other human beings. Make friends. Share stories. Find commonalities. Marvel over differences. Collaborate. Exchange expertise.

For only by working together can we help to heal ourselves, each other, and the planet. Language is the most important tool we have. Please use it, grow it, cherish it.

Enjoy the podcast.

Scroll down for full transcript.

Thank you for always focusing on the possibilities, opportunities and the power of language and what it can do for us individually - and collectively!

Elizabeth Mack

If you've never done #cliftonstrengths, yourself or with your team, don't wait any longer.  Norah Jones of FLUENCY CONSULTING is the one and only to do it! It's all about your super powers: finding & using them to affect positive change in the world. What's not to love?!

Elizabeth Mack
Founder and CEO / Freestyle Languages


Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore


Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL


You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

Richard Brecht


Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

Terri Marlow

Want to hear more? Access previous episodes, and get to know the wonderful people I talk with through the It’s About Language page, or by clicking on the Podcast tab above. You can also find this week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

As a certified Gallup Strengths coach, I can provide you or your organization personalized coaching to discover and build on your strengths.

I provide workshops, presentations, and talks that inspire and engage through powerful language insights, and I pair those insights with practical applications for the lives of educators, learners, businesses, and faith-centered organizations. I’d love to share ideas with your organization or group, and develop an event tailored to your objectives.

Click here to start a conversation.


0:00:02.3 Norah Jones: Hi, I’m Norah Jones. Welcome to It’s About Language. So what is language all about? Well, it’s about learning and sharing, opening doors, and education, work and life. Language is about creating communities and creating boundaries. It’s all about the mystery of what makes us human. So our conversations will explore that mystery and the impact of what makes us human. It’s about language in life, it’s about language at work, it’s about language for fun. Welcome to the podcast.

0:00:45.5 Norah Jones: It’s been interesting for me, and I hope for you, to intersperse the conversations on It’s About Language with specific invitations to you to take action in your life based on language. In episode 81, I invited you to consider about how heritage language in your life, near or far term, could be an impetus for you to consider growing your language skills in that heritage language. We’ll also take a look in the future about how that language invitation, that why of language for you, could relate to your identity specifically, things like you consider yourself to have a good ear, or that you’ve never met a stranger. So let’s meet the whole world, or that you consider yourself a world citizen, that why of language to start.

0:01:45.7 Norah Jones: In Episode 82, we took a look at what can happen when you look at the what of language, specifically, how you demonstrate your level of control to yourself and to others. How we get inside language, what we call proficiency, and how proficiency is dynamic and does not imply perfection. We always take a look at the what of language with regard to the idea of growth. And an important part of the what of language is realizing that there are various places that we can stop or at least pause. That we have various reasons for learning language, that’s our why, and the level of language, our what, can vary according to our desires and our needs at any time. But I also wanted to know how for you. Wanted to invite you to think about how you can grow the language then that you’re motivated to learn.

0:02:44.5 Norah Jones: So, I thought about my guest for episode 74, Elizabeth Mack, who founded and is the CEO of Freestyle Languages, specifically focused on the teaching and learning of language for adults. I named that episode Opportunity and Joy because every time we speak with Elizabeth Mack, you know that she’s opening doors, and you know that she’s full of joy. The energy that language gives to connect us to human beings is evident in her life and in her work, and the pathways that she provides for adult learners of language. So I gave her a call. So that I could find out, is it too late for adults to learn? If not, then what does research show us about adult learning? What are the ways that we do adult learning? What are the doors for you to walk through to be able to grow the language that you want to grow, be it a heritage language, a new language?

0:03:57.4 Norah Jones: What are those pathways? What’s that door for you as an adult? So enjoy this conversation with Elizabeth Mack.


0:04:12.9 Norah Jones: So when I was taking a look at why people should learn languages. How they prove that they learn languages especially as adults. I began to think very strongly about how adults go about learning languages. What are some of the things that block them? Call to Elizabeth Mack, the CEO and person that established Freestyle Languages. Hi, Elizabeth.

0:04:41.5 Elizabeth Mack: Hello, Norah, so happy to be here again with you.

0:04:42.7 Norah Jones: Yes, I’m glad to have you back. You know episode 74 was called Opportunity and Joy, and that taps into a lot of what I know that we can share in a conversation here because the adult learner… I’m gonna give you an image, see if this image makes sense to you. This is how I think of you in part, all analogies fail a little bit. But this is like, you have discovered, you’ve been hanging on this beautiful home, but nobody’s going into the beautiful home because they can’t open the front door. So you go in through the window, and you find out that the house is beautiful, comfortable, and has a stocked refrigerator, and you also recognize that the door is blocked by a giant cabinet full of stuff.

0:05:35.4 Norah Jones: And so what you’ve been doing is taking stuff out of the drawers and clearing out the cabinets so you can get that door open, so people can come into the house of language. You’ve been releasing that blockage for adults.

0:05:53.0 Elizabeth Mack: Love that analogy so much. I’m gonna steal that and use it over and over. Yes, inviting people in because look how fabulous it is in here.

0:06:01.0 Norah Jones: It’s amazing, isn’t it? But one of the things that I also enjoy, and that I want you to bring please, is you’ve done a lot of research. You’ve come in, as I say, through the window. You’ve taken a look at adult language learning from a research point of view before you ever thought about establishing a company and a method for it. Help folks to understand if they’re adult listeners, how do adults go about learning an additional language or two or three?

0:06:30.6 Elizabeth Mack: Absolutely. Well, thank you again, Norah for the opportunity. It’s hard not to focus on all the joy and opportunity right here, but particularly with adults. And there’s so much missed opportunity out there, I think with the world. And I have a hard time understanding people who don’t wanna be learning a second or third language, and they’re okay with their first because inside that house you’re describing, it’s so rich, it’s so full of culture, it’s so full of connecting to the possibilities of the world, and it can advance your career, it can do all of these things. But as you mention, it’s actually part of the reverse. I jumped to start Freestyle and then figured out that there was science behind the way I had been doing it, and the way that certain universities and academic institutions had not been embracing, more particularly in the ’80s, which, of course, I’m aging myself.

0:07:22.5 Elizabeth Mack: But I didn’t feel as though I had been set up for success with language, all these years of French in school. And when I finally had this amazing opportunity to go to France after six and a half years of academic French, I thought I spoke French ’cause I got good grades, and it wasn’t coming out of my mouth. I mean the moments of awe and shock came so fast that I didn’t have time to be upset about what set me up for failure. I knew I needed to own some of that, and I know I’m no genius. But I’m also not an idiot; this should not have happened. So I knew something was flawed, I just wanted to go about the way of learning. And then I did so years later again with an opportunity to live in Amsterdam when speaking to what you talk about the rich, the power of our cultural heritage, that’s a big part of my culture.

0:08:16.9 Elizabeth Mack: And so there’s no way I wasn’t going to learn that language. It was so, so powerful to me, and so did so again as an adult. But then flash-forward when I was teaching at the university, I thought, “Oh, aha, this is what I had experienced growing up that didn’t set me up for success,” is that there’s stress and there’s exams, and there’s a model through textbooks that is lacking both joy and authenticity, and all of these things. I just wanted people to experience the low stress model. And when I jumped and started Freestyle, I really didn’t have the science then that I have now. I started figuring it out as I went. I just knew that I had to jump.

0:09:01.3 Elizabeth Mack: And so it was really at this intersection of three years with Freestyle where our learners had gone from knowing nothing, like zero to holding conversations. And I thought, “Oh, thank God it’s working.” [laughter] I didn’t know. I didn’t have the science. I just knew what didn’t work. And so, hallelujah, three years in, we had a proven model just by way of these things. And in those three years, I had done them, finally, as we were developing the curriculum, I knew that it could work through authentic materials, and through professional instruction with our instructors, the pedagogy, that term, that it can’t just be a native speaker, you have to understand how to teach a language, and then the effective filter and all these things from Stephen Krashen to all these brilliant people who came before us…

0:09:55.7 Elizabeth Mack: I thought, “Wait a minute. I felt so betrayed because I thought the science is out there, why isn’t everybody using this?” And a lot are, don’t get me wrong. Our brilliant friends at the University of Texas, Dr. Callum, Dr. Garza of the Texas Language Center, and many other places are embracing that, it’s true. And so unfortunately, I experienced an older model, and I think many have, most adults feel… That I have experienced in the 10 years of Freestyle, feel as though, they might not be good at language. And I am here to tell you everybody is because as you often say, Norah, it’s the human experience. It’s what our brains are designed to do and language learning science tells us that we can. And so, thank you for, yeah, the question and leaning into it.

0:10:40.3 Norah Jones: Absolutely. Thank you. And people will say, though, “I’m too old.” And we know that young ones do have a part in their brain that begins to dim, if not disintegrate [chuckle] when they get to be an early teen. So aren’t we sometimes too old?

0:11:02.5 Elizabeth Mack: No, never. And so… Okay, here’s the reality with the science, and if we could scream this every day from a mountaintop, this would just be awesome, and we try to do this, which is… Okay, so we’ll look, for example, at the critical period hypothesis, and this goes back to the ’60s. We know from the ’60s that infants through seven years old or so, it’s a critical period, they can acquire language, so we start getting into the differentiation between language acquisition and language learning, so little infants and kids have this magnificent ability to just acquire. You know brains are like a sponge. And what the critical period hypothesis tells us is that they can more easily acquire a nativelike sound for a language, and the patterns of the language, and even a second and third, which I experienced, again, living in Holland. I’m like, “What? All these five-year-olds are speaking easily three languages, easy.”

0:11:58.9 Elizabeth Mack: And so I witnessed it, it’s amazing. It really is true. However, what also is true, and I love that two things can be true at once, is that, for example, you look at the… There’s a magnificent MIT study… I mean, who’s gonna go against MIT study, right? That shows us that language learning for adults, that they can become just as proficient and fluent, it’s just a little bit tougher. But the science is out there; we can do it, our brains are designed for this. And there are several pieces to that puzzle, but we can become just as proficient and just as fluent, and so not only am I a product of that, because I didn’t start Dutch until I was in my 20s, but the science tells us that. And so the MIT study, for sure, is one of the bigger ones, but…

0:12:49.6 Elizabeth Mack: And then there’s another study that we love at Freestyle, when I say we, is diving into the most recent stuff always as it comes out. There is an article in Scientific American that just came out a couple of years ago, and so as soon as we learned this, we wove this into our curriculum and our model, which is that, it’s called… And I love this article in Scientific American, everybody needs to look this up, it’s called How Old Ears Can Learn New Tricks. And so there is, finally answering your question, there is no age limit, and it’s just how we can do it. And one thing that they’ve determined we need to do is start with and focus on pronunciation, because adults have what’s called an aural block, A-U-R-A-L, like the auditory block.

0:13:35.1 Elizabeth Mack: And when you start with pronunciation, and you continue to focus on pronunciation, you break down that neural block, and you open up these neural pathways. And actually your language learning goes faster and better. And so it speaks to the type of model that adults need to embrace. So if we’re looking at the language learning, we know from past research it’s possible, we know the power of what it does for our brains, the cognitive benefits alone, how powerful that is, and so we weave in all those elements that we know is important from Stephen Krashen to strong pedagogy for instructors who actually know how to teach the language. And then things like this pronunciation, and then the rich culture and all of those things. And yeah, it just… And there’s more and more research too, I could talk forever about it.

0:14:27.7 Elizabeth Mack: And we see adults doing this all the time. So it’s so possible. And for the cognitive benefits alone at any age, I urge people to get into it. In the ’60s and ’70s, it’s been shown to delay dementia, and beyond that being a beautiful benefit, you feel what it’s doing for your cognitive skills. It’s the multitasking, it’s all of those functions that become richer and better.

0:14:56.3 Norah Jones: We have, so many of us, discovered the stimulation of joy internally, and it flows out, too, to others that comes from tapping on this natural skill. And when we, then, do let it flow out to others, we make new friends, and that’s a healthy thing to do for humanity all along the pathway. Let me come back to kind of that breakthrough moment that you just provided because, again, a lot of the folks that are listening to this, I’m hoping, are themselves or will share with others the, “Yes, get started.” And when you talked about get started, you tapped on both pronunciation, by which I think a lot of folks assume their own pronunciation, which can involve accent, and then the pronunciation that comes to them, that aural, ear-based pronunciation. Talk a little bit more about that because that sounds like a truly breakthrough viewpoint of getting people started in having hope.

0:16:05.1 Elizabeth Mack: It is, absolutely. It’s so, so helpful. And you’re absolutely right. It is about our individual pronunciation. And going back to that critical period hypothesis, the other side of, let’s say, in the house, if you will, of that analogy is that adults possess this cognitive advantage of self-correction and understanding feedback, and we become better learners, we know how to learn. So there’s actually an advantage. And by way of this pronunciation, when we hear our own track, we record it, we compare it to something authentic. And then, we get the feedback loop that furthers the science about how we can correct that because we have the cognitive ability to do that. Children don’t have that cognitive ability, so we listen; we work on it. We understand the payoffs. We set goals, and we get excited about when we reach those things and that somebody tells us, “Wow, you sound good.”

0:17:05.6 Elizabeth Mack: And we’re not looking for perfection. We’re looking for the ability to be understood. And so on that pronunciation, back to this, so excuse me or us if we go a little bit metalanguage for a minute, but we’re looking at two different things. The segmentals in pronunciations, so if we go into linguistics and phonology, it’s, segmentals are the individual sounds. For example, the French “R,” you and I know all about that, and we know that can be challenging. And you can get what we lovingly say is maybe the French stink eye if that doesn’t go well for you in France, but you put yourself out there, and you love it anyway because it’s worth it. And you’re thinking, “Gosh, they didn’t understand me. Why is that?” And it turns out it’s not just because of that individual sound, it is partially, and we wanna be able to work on that, and the differentiation, for example, of how that’s different from the Spanish “R.”

0:18:00.8 Elizabeth Mack: Your tongue goes in different places, your mouth is shaped differently, you have to work the muscle intonation around that. You have to watch how people are moving their mouth. It’s different, but it can be changed, both because we have the intelligence to change it and the drive to work on it. But the bigger thing in language learning science is what we call the supersegmentals, and what is preventing us from being understood… I’m gonna go back to that French analogy, is yeah, partly they shut down because an American is speaking. But the other is that it’s not just the nasal vowel or the “R.” It’s these what we call the supersegmentals, which means the lyricism of the language, how those words are being connected, the intonation, the larger picture of the language. So the liaison in French, and how that’s handled.

0:18:51.5 Elizabeth Mack: So you wanna work on that as well and that’s so easy to do as an adult because guess what? By way of music, the lyricism of it, watching shows, that’s where that comes in because there’s also language learning science that shows you that just by way of absorbing it and exposure, just by exposure, things start sounding right, and you start saying it right. So it’s both things on pronunciation. So, without going phonology at any deeper levels, it’s important to look at both things, but to mostly know it’s really not that hard, and we have the cognitive ability that children do not.

0:19:31.2 Norah Jones: What a deep insight. And it reminds me of when I was in Colombia this summer of 2022 with what my friend, that was so kind to invite us, pointed out that I was back in the mountainous country and the lyricism of the Spanish blew me away because I could hear my more school-based articulation and sound and certainly vocabulary choice was… I felt stunned by the beauty of the lyricism and the approach of that language. Now, I noticed that, and you’re talking about that cognitive approach where if I’d had all summer, I think I would have enjoyed sounding like a Paisa. You spoke about professional educators helping this, the exposure is part of how we learn language as an adult, the cognitive reflection.

0:20:36.9 Norah Jones: Help us to understand then, Elizabeth, about how people can use educational opportunities to grow their language, at what point that might come in, and is it necessary, or at what point might it be necessary? What kind of expectations do those listening who would like to learn or encourage others to learn languages as adults might they be considering those pathways?

0:21:01.5 Elizabeth Mack: The reasons can be so varied, and that what’s… It makes it so important to understand people’s goals, and we love seeing all of that. At Freestyle, we hear, it’s common for adults from 20-somethings to retirees to really want it to enrich their travels. Excellent. It can be for engaging with a new family member, right? We hear that a lot, “I’m dating somebody,” or “I’m gonna be marrying into this family.” And we say it right off, “You don’t wanna be the only one at the table not understanding what’s being said about you, so you need to get on it.” [laughter] And how joyful is that moment when you can actually respond and let them know that, “Guess what, I understood you, and I’m gonna respond to you.”

0:21:42.8 Elizabeth Mack: And then you get the professional reasons. We see organizations really investing in language that you and I have spoken about in the Opportunity and Joy segment that we did, is it’s really, really empowering to see entire organizations leaning into the power of inclusivity through language learning, providing equity and empathy. There’s nothing, and I have to mention, too, because this is so, so timely, Norah, that the construction industry, for example, that has the largest language gap as identified by ACTFL and research, they know it. And the thought leaders in the industry are investing in language because they want to do something about the inclusivity issues, and they want to build empathy and they want to build equity, and they are investing heavily in language for their employees, both Spanish and ESL, for those who speak Spanish as a first language, particularly in the United States, right?

0:22:44.1 Elizabeth Mack: Like what is it, almost 40%, our heritage Spanish speakers, it’s phenomenal, like we have to get ahead of this curve. And those who understand this are doing it, and it’s phenomenal. So once people do make that decision, it becomes, as you say, how do we do it? And I would just urge everybody to look at the model that’s important. And the number one point you just brought up, I think it’s really important, we know what’s really important, to have professionally trained instructors, this pedagogy, because again, going back to our cognitive advantage, you have to be trained, and like learn through somebody who knows how to handle that and to get that out of you.

0:23:26.7 Elizabeth Mack: And in the language learning, that, for example, again… I’m sorry, I can’t help but not go down into the metalanguage is, we use in a flipped model our guided induction. Our instructors are trained to lead adults into understanding it for themselves in a way that we actually have testimonials that say, “Actually, Freestyle tricks us into learning,” and we do. So it’s not the form. Nobody cares about grammar charts. Nobody cares. Stop it. Stop wasting your time. What we care about is using it to establish meaning in conversations. And when adults can figure out that structure and that meaning for themselves, guess what, they retain it better, that’s language learning science, the retention is there. So they don’t have to spend the time drilling, drilling, drilling because they’ve already figured it out. And then the form does matter, but it comes later.

0:24:15.9 Elizabeth Mack: So the point is to have instructors that understand how to use that cognitive advantage and not just meet online, for example. And we do believe that online learning is the most powerful. We wouldn’t go back in-person if somebody paid us the rent to do it because we’re seeing language learning outcomes online better through our flipped model. But a big part of that is this guided induction we’re talking about, how we guide learners into understanding. And so, we often say if you’re gonna meet online, which is beautifully convenient. Think about it, I mean people…

0:24:49.7 Elizabeth Mack: I think the fatigue of COVID is over, and people understand now the power of online everything, meeting and learning and running companies because you’re not in traffic, and you’re not driving, and you’re not paying rent. It’s beautifully convenient, and it opens up more time in your lives. I mean, you’ve heard people are more fit, people are doing these things, they’re… So if you’re gonna… If adults are going to meet online for language learning, we really encourage it not to just be with somebody who speaks the language as their first language, commonly referred to as a native speaker, which as a term has some connotations with it, but it’s fine to practice.

0:25:29.8 Elizabeth Mack: And yes, that person has the accent, but it’s a little bit of a waste… It’s not a little bit. It’s a waste of time because you can get some practice, but it’s not… When you’re not guided by a professional and you’re not understanding and driven to that form, it’s just not the best use of time. So we really, really urge people to look at who you’re being taught by. Is that person trained to teach a language?

0:25:57.3 Norah Jones: So many that may be listening to this would reflect, I believe, in their lives that language was for them an experience of form; that form and language are kind of synonymous even if that had never really been stated in that way. But reflecting here for a moment on behalf of those for whom language learning was primarily form, why is form later? And can you provide some essences of what a trained instructor does to help that form serve the purposes of learning the language rather than drive it?

0:26:46.4 Elizabeth Mack: Right. So the meaning of a form… This all goes back to the power of guiding adults into understanding it. And the way, for example, that we do that is in the flipped classroom, it’s so, so powerful because one of the biggest inhibitors of adults learning language is because we have busy lives. I don’t think it’s for lack of interest. I hear, we hear all the time, “Oh my gosh, I would love to be able to do that. I’m not a language person.” A, that just needs to stop, right? If you were a human, our brains are designed to do this. But secondarily, people’s lives are busy. We have families, we have careers, we’re running all over the place. And so every minute that goes into it has to be empowerful.

0:27:31.8 Elizabeth Mack: And the flipped classroom model allows for this, and actually saves us time because, for example, in Freestyle, our instructors, we have, for example, videos. When you look at the average attention span time of adults, it’s what, seven minutes. So we don’t go much longer than that, and sometimes it’s seven, 12, 15 minutes. But that learning that takes place in these curated videos that guide learners into understanding the elements that we’re gonna be practicing in a virtual face-to-face classroom is a time-saver because then it’s not… It’s what’s called learner-driven, right? So then when learners come to the virtual face-to-face, they’ve already figured it out, and the way that they figured it out through this guided induction is by noticing the forms.

0:28:19.0 Elizabeth Mack: So it’s not that forms don’t matter, as you rightly point out, it’s that they’ve noticed the usage for it first, “Oh, this is how I introduce my family. This is how I say what I do as a profession. Okay, so when I’m in this interaction at a restaurant or I’m meeting this new person, it’s gonna be like this and this and this.” So they see the form later, and it basically verifies that it is what they thought it was through being guided into that. So forms definitely come into play, you’re absolutely right, but we can spend less time because our brains have figured it out when you’re guided into understanding it through the flipped model, which is so, so rich. So then your time is spent practicing it and having fun with it…

0:29:05.4 Elizabeth Mack: Because back to that time thing that you and Linda… I really enjoyed your last segment, were talking about measuring, right? How do you measure the language that you have, and the hours that have to go into it are significant. And there are so many myths out there, A, that adults can’t do it. B, that it will just take forever and ever and ever, and I’m too old. Well, no, you make progress from day one. So if you look at the ACTFL cone of proficiency levels, to be that novice learner, not that much has to go into the cone. You’re learning introductions, but as you move up to the intermediate, you have to do more, and more, and more with that. And so there is more time, but every 10 minutes matters. We’re talking about these microlearning minutes, and there’s a lot of data behind that as well. 12 and 15 minutes of microlearning can make a huge difference in your path to proficiency.

0:30:00.9 Elizabeth Mack: So yes, it takes 750-ish hours to get to an intermediate level based, you know, the ACTFL levels, but every 15 minutes matter. So when you’re engaging with it and practicing a few times a week and having fun with it, and it’s relevant to you and it matters, and you’re in a community that has the low effective filter, we talked… Thank God, again, Stephen Krashen was way on this in the ’80s, and leaning into that is so empowering in adults. The other thing, in addition to being time commitment averse that adults are because we’re busy. It’s not a slam on anybody, it’s a reality. Is that, okay, so we have limited time, what are we gonna do with it? And knowing that 10 and 12 and 15 minutes matters…

0:30:46.0 Elizabeth Mack: So for example, in those prepped lesson videos or when you come to class, to know that you’re gonna be in an environment that is fun, it’s relevant, it’s caring, and most of all, this other thing that adults possess which is… It’s not just the high inhibitions, it’s the ego thing, right? People don’t like to sound wrong or to sound bad. But when you’re in the right caring environment, and everybody is throwing it out there and having fun and laughing… One of our favorite hashtags, Norah, you may have seen this, is wine the great fluency builder. And it’s another reason we love teaching adults is because you can have a glass of wine, don’t care, bring it to class, and guess what, it works.

0:31:27.8 S32: Nelson Mandela is known to have embraced that as well. That one of our original great mission providers, Nelson Mandela, the way that he learned his language, but it’s empowering. And anything that you can do to make the atmosphere less stressful, that effective filter is real, as soon as people are stressed, learning stops. And so having a model that has this professionalism behind it, but only works towards making it feel as though it’s not stressful. So that’s a lot of work for somebody like Freestyle and our instructors work really hard to make it easy-going and fun, right? Isn’t that… It’s ironic, right? But it’s so doable, and it should…

0:32:09.2 Norah Jones: Well, and thank you for bringing up that joy because I think all of us that are in the instructional business, if you will, are like driving for this outcome. And it can be, if we’re not careful, even in the midst of those of us that love language and think of it as fun, be kind of a sense of grim, but what you keep bringing back to it over and over again is that language is natural, language is possible at all ages, and language brings joy.

0:32:38.6 Elizabeth Mack: Yes, so why aren’t we all… I just don’t understand why we’re all not in multiple [laughter] languages. Yeah.

0:32:45.9 Norah Jones: I had an image also, as you were speaking, Elizabeth, of an adult who is in their own environment, potentially a busy but eager parent who can bring some of this joy out into their family to encourage their young people who may or may not be learning a language or keeping up their heritage language or some any of those scenarios, or older adult who’s in a retirement community and who has friends that enjoy getting together periodically, and can bring some of that language joy in there to encourage others to understand how language learning can happen still. Do you have any stories of people that have brought that kind of joy out into their world because of their learning?

0:33:37.1 Elizabeth Mack: Absolutely. We definitely see and experience that joy… Going back to this joy and opportunity, it’s like a magnet, right? It’s really infectious. And when our instructors are, for example, they’re in that space, they’re joyful about it. That is the number one, yes, everybody can be pedagogically trained, but it’s joy and passion first. And people adhere themselves to people like that, and they wanna experience that. And there are plenty of people who now, for example, will say, “Oh gosh, my husband now sees what I’m doing, and he wants to be a part of this.” Or we traveled and we often see that where the joy, it becomes almost like a snowball effect. People will say, “Well, I think my travel would be easier.” Then they’ll take some language, and they’ll go on a trip, not knowing that they should have started a long time ago.

0:34:34.1 Elizabeth Mack: People will say that all the time, right? “I’m going to France in three weeks. When will I be speaking?” So it’s a little bit of a reality check for them. But you can definitely learn some, enough to make a difference in a few weeks; months are better. But traveling, we see that a lot with adults. It will be an enriching experience. Think about what you experienced in Colombia. And then, most often, they come back. And they want more because it becomes this magnetic thing, and they’re influencing those around them. And that happens a lot, right? It’s really infectious. We see it a lot, family members join up, people take trips together, and that’s not always possible, but you can do a lot online virtually, too.

0:35:20.5 Elizabeth Mack: In fact, for example, at Freestyle, we do these virtual trips, it’s like travel, “Take this tour through the Louvre or through the Prada.” You can do so much more online. The accessibility is phenomenal; we love that.

0:35:34.4 Norah Jones: So virtual tours, for example, are certainly sound motivating to adults. What other very stimulating things have you said, Oh, well then we hit the gold mine with bringing people in and bringing joy to them when we take them to do what?

0:35:51.2 Elizabeth Mack: Yeah, yeah, the virtual tours are a big deal. So for example, at Freestyle we have these monthly events that anybody can join for free and try out where it will be… And they’re virtual and there will be music. Going back to lyricism, we can’t get enough music, and that is so empowering, right? It’s you’re connecting with somebody else in another place in the world, they’re introducing themselves where they are, you’re literally invited into their homes or their music studio, and it’s just such a beautiful, infectious moment. Then you get, things we’re talking about with the language, the lyricism of the music. You can work on the lyrics, you can write, have a glass of wine, whatever that is.

0:36:30.2 Elizabeth Mack: The virtual trips, traveling around the world, into museums, through markets, it’s really, really true that all of the things that online offers makes us feel, and I’ve learned this also from, again, particularly Dr. Orlando Kelm at the University of Texas, that online learning is so multidimensional that the people are missing. Professors back at the university are missing the online because in-classroom feels so one-dimensional. So we not only can’t give up the online, we’re continuing to lean into the power of the accessibility, and what you can access in the world.

0:37:11.4 Norah Jones: Thank you. Now, I’ve asked you many questions designed to bring an adult learner into the room virtually with us here. What have I not asked about, or what would you say, “Hmm, this is so important for an adult learner,” before we finish our conversation today?

0:37:31.3 Elizabeth Mack: I would have to say that… And thank you for asking that ’cause there’s always something we leave out, I get so excited about everything. That there’s so many myths, right? We’ve talked about the myth that adults can’t do it. We know that they can. We see it all the time. Language learning science shows us they can. We talked about the type of model, having professional instruction, making it fun. But I think the most important thing of all is understanding that the power of language is it goes back to… It’s a human endeavor and a human connection, and if your goal is to learn to speak to another person, you need to practice with another person. And so we love the idea of all language, right? The practice, apps are great practice, there is learning in apps. You can build your vocabulary. You can put the structures together, and I love the accessibility of certain of them. But that’s a portion of learning only.

0:38:33.4 Elizabeth Mack: And so we hear adults all the time say, “Well, I’ve been learning with X, Y, Z, but I’m not speaking anything.” And I just wish there weren’t some maybe false advertising out there saying, “Hey, you’re gonna be fluent in three months,” or, “Hey, learn with our app.” Nobody learns to speak through that limited exposure. There is learning, but it’s not the multiplicity of skills that, again, you and Linda spoke about, all of the skills needed to reach a certain proficiency level. And again, like you brilliantly said, I love that practice makes proficient, right? You just need to be able to communicate. But to be able to do that, you need to practice through meaningful, relevant conversation with other humans. That’s all. So get the…

0:39:23.3 Elizabeth Mack: And ideally, there’s other elements too, a professionally developed, culturally rich curriculum and all of these things, but it’s human-based. You’re looking for human connection you practice with humans.

0:39:33.5 Norah Jones: Thank you so much for providing the background on how you continue to discover, how you discovered, and then how you continue to discover the approach to language learning for adults. Elizabeth, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time today, and helping folks to be encouraged in their language journey.

0:39:55.0 Elizabeth Mack: Thank you so much, Norah. And thank you for… Yes, shouting out from the mountaintop of the world as possible ’cause it’s so worthwhile.


0:40:03.5 Norah Jones: Thanks for listening to this episode. I hope you enjoyed it. And especially, I hope that you feel encouraged to go out there as an adult learner and learn new language or continue to grow language or languages that you do know. Just enjoy the journey. Enjoy the connections and encourage others, including potentially those in your own household, in your area of work, in your community. Encourage adults to understand that language is part of all of our heritage, part of our human community, part of what connects us, and part of what will bring us hope in this world that needs hope and connectedness so desperately. Thank you so much. And talk to you next time.

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