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Can I learn a Language at an Older Age?

We tend to think of learning new languages as something exclusively in the wheelhouse of young people, and especially older toddlers and elementary-school kids. Their brains are like sponges, but ours feel more like hardened lumps of rock when we reach a certain age.

It’s odd, but we seem to have convinced ourselves that because young children pick things up so quickly, that there is no hope for older learners.

This is absolute nonsense, of course. We should be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that the challenge will be greater, but language learning is an activity that people of all ages should be engaged in. Below are some tips for older learnings looking to embark on their second (or perhaps third) language.

Tip #1: Be patient

Many of us get sucked in by the allure of TV and movie language-learning montages where speakers go from zero to fluent in about 2 minutes on screen. Language learning in reality, especially for adults, is a slow and careful process that will test your patience. You have to know your limits, and keep plugging away at it, practicing, reviewing and steadily adding vocabulary, grammar and linguistic knowledge to your repertoire.

Tip #2: Practice with native speakers

This one takes some courage, but the immersive experience is still the best thing to recreate. Kids learn from immersion, and so do we, even if it’s not as quickly or apparently easy. We risk embarrassing ourselves making mistakes, mispronouncing words or accidentally uttering something rude when we’re trying to ask the way to the bathroom. In the end, however, your courage to practice with native speakers will pay off.

Tip #3: Make realistic goals and stick to them

No matter how hard you work or how many hours you put into the process, there are limits to what you can really achieve each day, week or month. Learners who shoot off at a hundred miles an hour and expect to be able to sustain learning 100 words and expressions a day, and study for 5 hours daily without fail are only dooming themselves to disappointment. Adults have lives, responsibilities and other stresses, and we have to account for those. Failing in your goals will only put you off the learning process. Be realistic, and over time you’ll see greater cumulative success.

Tip #4: Don’t get flustered by “the wall”

Finally, there’s an obstacle that older learners hit when they move from the intermediate stage towards the more advanced material. Beginner’s material will typically come fairly easily, and this emboldens you to go on into the intermediate level. Moving from there to advanced, however, takes a lot more work and time, and we sometimes hit a wall that discourages us to go on. We aren’t progressing as fast as we were at the beginning, therefore we are failing. Know that a slowing progression is normal, take your time and you will “ascend” that wall.

The older you are, the more likely you are to accuse the young ones of being impatient and lazy. Lead by example and prove to others that an older mind is not a spent force! Make language learning your new life’s goal.


By Thomas Longrigg