There is a well-known theory that, as you age, learning and achieving fluency in a new language becomes a lot harder. This can put off many adults from even attempting to get a grasp of the basics of learning a new language, but there is some good news as recent studies show that certain aspects of learning a new language actually become easier. What’s more, learning a new language at an older age can actually improve the health of the brain and delay some of the memory-related effects of old age. There are certainly many challenges and hurdles to face on the road ahead as an adult learner, but with the right attitude, mind-set and a commitment to succeed, older learners can do just as well as the youngsters.
Attitude to Learning
One of the reasons why young children appear to have a much easier time with language is their carefree attitude and apparent lack of inhibition and self-consciousness. They don’t tend to worry about the social stigma attached to making mistakes and don’t tend to fear looking silly when they get something wrong. Adults should learn to adopt the same fearless attitude rather than focus on the fact that they may well make mistakes or get something wrong publicly; accept that making mistakes is a fundamental part of learning, and don’t be afraid to practise your language skills on locals and other language users. Be as carefree as a child when it comes to practising your new language and you should find that you get the hang of it much faster.
A Wider Vocabulary
Older people have a wider vocabulary and a better understanding of meaning and concepts thanks to their experiences in life. This makes it much easier for adults to build up a larger vocabulary base in a new language. They also find it easier to identify which is the most appropriate word to use to achieve the same accurate meaning. The areas in which adults will struggle more than children include grammar and phonetics. It’s very hard to mimic a sound as an adult that you have never previously heard or had to make throughout childhood. Similarly, when learning a new grammar and sentence structure, adults essentially have to go against what comes naturally to them in order to learn and adopt the new syntax.
The difficulties associated with learning a new language are, in fact, what makes it most worthwhile. Not only do you get a huge sense of achievement each time you overcome an obstacle or have a breakthrough, but you’re also giving your brain an extremely beneficial workout. Studying and interchanging between languages throughout life requires the use of numerous parts of the brain and keeps different processes functioning quickly and efficiently. Studies have shown that language learning helps improve memory and other brain functions, and can even help to delay the onset of dementia. Whatever the age or motivation behind learning a new language, it’s definitely fair to say that you’re never too old to start!