Today we have great guest post that discussed that common fear…
“I’m too old to learn a language!”
It comes from Julie Peterson, who writes on study skills over at askpetersen.com
Now, I realise that age and language learning is a controversial topic, so I look forward to reading your comments at the end of the article!
Did you know that Thomas Jefferson spoke six languages?
He was fluent in English, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin.
Herbert Hoover, another former President of the USA, was fluent in Mandarin.
These presidents are a true inspiration to language learners.
However, when people think about learning a new language themselves, there’s one excuse above all that prevents them really giving it their all: “I’m too old to learn a new language!”
It seems like we’re all fascinated by children’s ability to learn languages, since their brains are like sponges.
They seem to have the ability to soak up new words with incredible ease and efficiency.
As people get older, they feel their minds aren’t as fresh as they used to be, thus they find it difficult to remember new details.
Nevertheless, the argument that children have better memory and greater ability to learn languages is a myth.
Saying that you’re too old to learn something is just an excuse…
Your brain still has power to process information.
You have something that children don’t have: commitment, focus, and determination.
You need more convincing?
This article will give you seven reasons why you have an advantage in learning a language as an adult.
1. Age Is Not the Only Factor
Yes, children have the ability to learn faster.
Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics, had an interesting theory of universal grammar.
He argued that people possessed innate, biological grammatical categories that made language development in children easy.
However, he also argued that the overall language processing capacity of adults was based on the same grammatical categories.
That predisposition to process languages is not lost with age.
If you could learn a foreign language when you were 6, nothing prevents you from getting into the same learning adventure at 68.
The process of learning is not only based on our biological nature.
It also depends on your learning environment, emotions, intelligence, mother tongue, genetics, inner motivation, and more.
The proper learning environment is important because it makes you focused.
For example, let’s say you set up a special space in your home.
It’s a distraction-free environment, where you’ll have a nice desk and a chair, and all learning materials you need.
This space boosts your motivation and when you sit on that chair, you do what you were planning to do: you learn.
At that moment, you don’t think about your age. You’re focused on the goal ahead.
2. You’re Good with Technology
If you’re reading this article, then you already know how to use a computer, tablet, or smartphone!
Guess what: those exact tools can help you with your language learning!
A child may use a tablet app with the help of their parents, but they cannot access complete courses.
When you were young, you were dependent on teachers.
Now, you’re not.
There are great platforms that allow you to start learning any language, and most of them are completely free:
The choice is vast!
Pick the platform you like, choose your language and start taking online lessons.
None of these platforms sets an upper age limit, because their founders understood what you are about to understand: people are never too old to learn.
In addition to grammar and vocabulary lessons, the platforms also include practise sessions that will help you master the language.
The good thing is that you need to be an adult to start using these sites, but they don’t require advanced technical skills.
Whatever your age is, it’s perfect for online learning if you’re not a child.
3. You Can Motivate Yourself
As you get older, your motivation to accomplish things grows.
You don’t need scientific evidence to prove this fact, just ask yourself: aren’t you motivated to accomplish as much as possible in your life?
The more time has passed, the more you become aware that there’s no time to waste.
As an adult, your motivation doesn’t depend on other people.
You find it inside.
Here are few motivational techniques that will help you master a new language:
- What do you want to learn?
- What platform or books are you going to use?
- How are you going to make progress?
Make a timeline that allows you to progressively cover the lesson plans and practice sessions.
Make daily plans, which include at least 30 minutes of language learning.
You can do it!
Everyone has at least half an hour of free time throughout the day.
Maybe it will be difficult for you to commit to the schedule at the start, but once you go through the first week, you’ll turn the practice into a routine.
Recognise your achievements.
- Take tests after each chapter and grammar lesson.
- Give yourself some credit regarding the progress you’ve made.
- If you recognise your weaknesses, you can go back to the lessons to fill in the gaps.
Being able to recognise mistakes is a great achievement, too.
Communicate with native speakers through Facebook.
You can easily find relevant groups where language learners connect with native speakers.
If, for example, you’re trying to learn French, all you need to do is type ‘learn French’ in Facebook’s search bar.
You’ll find different pages that share free lessons (such as Learn French with French Today and Learn French with Pascal), but you’ll also find groups, such as Learn French Language Group and Learn English and French with Us.
The mere fact that you can connect with people who share your goals and struggle is motivating enough.
You’ll support each other through the process, and you’ll get great recommendations for websites, movies, YouTube videos, and online lessons.
4. Self-Discipline Is Easier When You’re Older
Children quickly lose focus, so their parents have to discipline them into learning with different methods. Do you remember homework assignments you didn’t like?
In a way, discipline was a torture for you when you were a child.
As an adult, you still have a slight problem with self-discipline, but you’re also aware of the purpose why you want to learn this language.
The motivation to learn is usually a good enough reason to discipline yourself.
As soon as you get into the daily routine and you know that no one forced you into it, you’ll be able to overcome the distractions and stay focused on the task.
You’re losing focus and you can’t commit to an efficient learning practice every day? Here are few tricks to solve the problem:
- Use a to-do app like Wunderlist to set daily goals and keep track of accomplishments. This will give structure to your daily activities.
- Install Strict Workflow and Stay Focusd, browser extensions that don’t allow you to access distracting websites during the learning session. With Strict Workflow, you’ll organize your learning time in sessions that boost your productivity levels: 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break. During a learning session, you won’t have access to the websites you specify as distracting. Stay Focusd allows you to set limits on the time you spend on distracting websites every day. If you allow yourself 40 minutes per day on Twitter, Instagram, news sites, and other websites that consume most of your time, the app will block them when you achieve the limit.
- Install AdBlock, which will block distracting ads. You’ll no longer be tempted to click on those online shopping ads you keep seeing.
- Organise the learning space, leave the phone in the other room, and don’t answer to messages when you’re learning. You need this time for yourself.
5. You’re Able to Find and Fix Your Mistakes
When you’re learning a language as an adult, you have access to dictionaries and grammar.
They make the process more complex, but more effective as well.
The practice will include a lot of writing and speaking. When you write an essay, you’ll be able to check the grammar and vocabulary. You will identify the flaws, and you’ll fix them.
Thanks to the level of comprehension you’re able to achieve, you can be your own editor.
The ability to check your writing and the awareness for you speech gives you an advantage.
Unlike a kid, you can understand your strengths and weaknesses. You can monitor your progress in learning through tests and practice. That’s a great way for finding out what you’re good at.
But, you’ll also discover your weak points, so you’ll know what you need to focus on.
Children learn what the environment teaches them. As an adult, you have the power to choose what to learn.
You can customise the process to suit your own character and needs.
6. You Have Life Experience
Let’s say you’re learning French and you find a new word: brute. It’s translated as unpleasant, harsh, or severe. Suddenly, you realise: “Hey, it’s similar to brutal in English. Brute, brutal. I get it!”
Different languages have various similarities between them. Some words will sound familiar, so you’ll find connections and you’ll remember them easily.
Plus, the grammar rules are more or less the same in different languages. When you’re mastering a new tense in the language you’re learning, you’ll understand its rules easily. You already learned the same tense for your native tongue.
7. Adults Learn Just as Fast as Children
After all those convincing reasons that show you’re NOT too old to learn a new language, here’s the final argument: Middlebury Institute of International Studies and Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center specialise in teaching the most difficult languages to adults, who are complete beginners.
The learners are raised to fluency in one year.
At one point, you see an individual completely unaware of the rules of the foreign language, and after a short period of time you see them as fully-qualified interpreters or translators.
Needless to say, these programs are not available to children.
See? Age is no problem at all.
Do you have any thoughts on the controversial “I’m too old to learn a language!” question? Let us know in a comment below!
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This article was written by Olly Richards.
Got a question? I'll answer it on the podcast! Just click here!
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