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It’s Never too Late to Learn a Language

First, let’s start off by me saying that it’s never too late to learn a language. Again, I repeat, it’s never too late to learn a language. Why am I saying this? A few days ago I came across an article that debated whether or not foreign languages should continue to be taught in schools. In the comment section, one person wrote that teaching a foreign language is useless if it doesn’t begin at the primary level. Their idea was that after reaching a certain age, reaching fluency was next to impossible. This is a myth and has been disproven time and time again, both through research and the experience of individuals. 

Children learn better than adults 

Exposure

Some people have the idea that children learn languages better than adults do.  They reach this conclusion because they see how children who move to different countries are able to easily pick up a language, speak fluently, and usually without any trace of a foreign accent.  An adult who spends the same amount of time in the same country usually won’t have the same amount of success. The adult might speak in a broken style with a lot of mistakes, or they may have a strong accent that makes it difficult for a listener to understand what they’re saying.  Even if the adult goes to a language school or works with a language tutor, the results of the adult will be lower than that of the child. Does that mean that the adult has started learning at an age that’s too late? Not necessarily. At least, not biologically. The amount of exposure that a child usually receives often eclipses that of the adult.  Children will find themselves surrounded by other children who only speak a certain language. For hours on end, they’re hearing the language from their classmates and their teachers. When they watch TV, they’re hearing the new language from TV shows and movies (not to mention music that might be playing on local radio stations). The adult on the other hand may only use the new language to communicate what is absolutely necessary, and nothing further.  The adult’s language might be broken, but it can be understood, so no correction is given, and the adult doesn’t have a pressing incentive to further develop their language skills. The child might be exposed to the new language for many hours per day. If we take into account only the number of hours they’re in school, then they might have anywhere from 5-8 hours of explicit (direct) language instruction each day. The adult who manages to go to a language school might be exposed to around 4-6 hours of language per week in an educational institution (unless they enroll in an intensive language program).  

Fear

There’s also the fact that children tend to have less fears of making mistakes when speaking or using the language.  As they become older, the fear of being embarrassed or of failing increases which can decrease the chance of a young person taking risks.  On the other hand, adults language learners may not have much confidence. They might be more inhibited when it comes to using the language, especially outside of a classroom.  The more shielded they become, the less likely they are to use the language and the less likely they are to use the language, the less growth they’ll experience in the language that they’re learning.  Bearing these things in mind, can we really say that it’s too late to learn a language after a certain age, or can we say that learning a language in adulthood is absolutely possible? From my perspective, it is possible to learn a language well into adulthood and success in doing that is completely achievable.  It just requires giving yourself the best chance possible.  In short, it’s never too late to learn a language.   

Your methods and commitment 

Commitment 

First things first, if you’re going to learn a new language, you have to commit to the goal.  If you decide to quit after a week or a month of trying to learn, then you’re only failing yourself.  Commit to learning a language for at least 6 months. In addition to that, make a solid plan for yourself, specifically, how much time you’re going to dedicate to learning the language each day and each week.  Be committed and be consistent in learning your target language.  

Your Methods

Secondly, you have to use methods that are effective for you in language learning.  Many adults who decide to learn a language try to learn the same way they were taught or learned in school.  This includes using flashcards, conjugation charts, and just learning words out of context. It might work for some people, but using these methods as your foundation for language learning usually won’t be very fun and effective ways to reach a good level in the language of your choice.  Nowadays there are many options available to learn languages. These include apps, audio programs, online or in-person tutors, and more. You can also try to immerse yourself in the language you’re learning from the comfort of your own home.  In some future posts, I’ll give you different strategies that you can help you to learn a different language. However, the most important thing is to use methods that are effective and helpful to you.  Don’t just do something because you’ve seen other people doing it or because you learned that way while you were in school.     

Learn about learning

One thing that’s overlooked in learning languages is the idea of learning about learning.  How does the brain work? What are the best ways to store new information into our mind or to ready ourselves to receive something completely brand new?  There are plenty of works and research in the field of neuroscience and you should consider spending some time learning about this area of research. One book I’d recommend is Make it Stick by Brown, Roediger III, and McDaniel.  You can (and should) also take some time to look into books and studies that discuss language learning and compare the different results to see how you can apply them to your own language learning journey. Learn how to learn so that your learning process is smooth and effective.  Learn and apply, learn again, and apply again.  

In ending

This post could definitely have been a lot longer because there’s so much information on this topic, but I wanted to keep it short and sweet and drive the point home that it’s never too late to learn a language.  Don’t listen to people who don’t know what they’re talking about and who probably never even tried to learn a language as an adult. If you have the desire and the will to learn a new language, then go ahead and learn the language(s) of your choice.  You’ll be happy with the worlds that will open up to you as a result.  

What languages are you learning?  What languages would you like to learn?  We’d love to hear about your experiences, so share them with us below in the comment section

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