It is common for older people, especially ones who are monolingual, to believe they are not smart or sharp enough to learn a second language. Myths have been going around for decades that language learning is most effective when you are young, and that by a certain age, you might as well give up because it’s too late for you.
In fact, when I was 19 years old and in college (very young in most people’s minds) I told a professor of mine that I wanted to learn Russian, and I kid you not, he told me it was too late for me.
However, this could not be further from the truth, because what he didn’t acknowledge is my determination. I believe that determination and dreams go a long way, and that with consistency and patience, people (at any age) can do ANYTHING.
Side note: I haven’t started studying Russian yet, but after I feel a bit more comfortable with my French and Spanish, I plan to show that professor that he was definitely wrong about me.
On that note, there are many reasons why language learning has no age limit, but a couple of these reasons include:
- Adults have more life experience than children do which gives them more context for vocabulary.
- Adults have the ability to form complex abstract thoughts, which helps them better comprehend the similarities and differences in the way that people express ideas in their first language vs. the way people express ideas in their target language.
One of the biggest setbacks that makes it look, from the outside, like adults have a disadvantage to learning new languages, is that children have less fear. While adults do have more experiences than children do, sometimes those experiences are negative and make them feel scared or embarrassed because they don’t want to try and fail or look dumb when speaking.
My advice to you, if you are feeling a little bit scared, is to ask the question you are thinking in your mind anyway. I promise you, no matter how dumb you think the question is, or how far behind you think you are from everyone else— you are not alone. Nine times out of ten, if you have a question, someone else is thinking the same thing and also afraid to ask, so let go of your fear as best you can, take a deep breath, and ask. Because you will be helping yourself and others.
When it comes to language learning, you can never be too old or too young. Language learning is more of an art than a science, so depending on who you are and what stage of life you are in, you just have to get creative with your learning methods; and contradictory to what some people may think, creativity doesn’t end when you’re five, ten, seventeen or even forty five. It keeps going and continues to evolve every single day of our lives. Therefore, whether you are 9 or 92, language learning is possible for you.