Debunking one of the Greatest Myths in Language Learning
Happy New Year! The time has come to set new language-learning goals. What’s that? You think you’re too old to learn a language? Think again! Here are 5 reasons why adults can, in fact, learn new languages:
1. The science is out
Many people believe that children are better language-learners than adults. They may know of the “critical period hypothesis” which suggests that the ability to acquire language is linked to biological age. However, there is no consensus in the scientific community about whether this is true; most studies on the subject have significant flaws (for example, they don’t compare like environments – full immersion from age 0-10 is different than two hours of class/week as an adult!) and most arguments in favour of the idea are based on belief rather than fact. There are many cases of adults achieving native-like proficiency in additional languages proving that factors like identity, motivation, and learning opportunities come into play.
2. We can skip the baby steps
One of the best things about learning a language as an adult is that we come to the language-learning table equipped with a whole range of important skills. Unlike babies, our voice box muscles are already developed, we already know how to distinguish between basic sounds, we usually know basic grammar concepts, we understand body language and tones like “angry” or “happy”, and we can use rationalization skills in a number of important ways. We can skip all of those baby steps. Unlike children, we can control our own learning process and, if we are dedicated, we can learn to express complex ideas very quickly.
3. We have motivation
This may be the most important element in language-learning: the more energy you put into learning a language, the more you will succeed. Benny “the Irish Polyglot” has shown that, with dedication, you can be Fluent in 3 Months and this guy claims to have learned French in just 17 days. I’ve seen it with adult students – those who review class material on their own, listen to music or watch movies in the target language, seek out language exchanges, etc., learn much faster than those who don’t. I think that saying “I can’t do it” is an excuse not to try. Instead, try hard and you will succeed!
4. We appreciate
Kids often learn languages because they have to – either they are living in a place where that language is spoken, or they are taking an obligatory language course at school. Motivated adult language learners have something that kids don’t: appreciation. First of all, we are often very busy working or raising families, so when we get the time to do something just for ourselves, like learn a new language, we tend to be very appreciative. More importantly, we also appreciate the “ah-ha!” moments of language learning. When we can finally wrap our heads around that difficult verb tense, or we string together our first coherent sentence, we adults feel the elation in a way that children usually don’t.
5. We have options
As adults, we have an incredible amount of options and opportunities for language-learning. We can choose the language, the schedule, and how much money we will spend on the project. And we can pick from a huge amount of resources: group classes, private classes, online classes, language exchange, grammar exercises, reading, music, movies, and so much more. If you’re not sure where to start (in addition to the Esperanza Education blog) check out this list of over 40 free online resources for learning languages.
So, no excuses! Make 2015 the year you finally learn that new language – no matter how old you are!