Everyone thinks they know that the ideal time to learn a language is when you are a child. And yes, children definitely seem to pick up learning more quickly than adults, but let’s be real – children don’t have to think about working, running the family home, maintaining relationships with colleagues and family members as well as paying the bills! They can have a single focus. Adults give themselves a hard time and feel they need to be super men and women without realizing how much they are actually achieving in a single day.
Of course, the learning outcome is going to be different.
The biggest problem I have observed in most adults is that they have a set idea of what they think they are good and bad at – often given to them during school age. I would have thought that by the time you are 50, these labels don’t have any relevance anymore – however – it never ceases to amaze me, how many adults (over 50 and 60) still refer to what they were good and bad at during their schooling years.
I hear - “I did French and Italian at school and got straight D’s. or this one 'I was never any good at French at school' – Should this label still really apply when we are 60 years old?
The second biggest issue amongst most adults is that they assume that they KNOW how they should learn – I am always hearing 'This is my learning style' and I hear all the time – “This is HOW I learn” – Lets get realistic, different subjects require different learning styles. As an adult, the more flexible your learning, the better the outcome – you need to use a combination of visual, kinesthetic and auditory styles; use flash-cards, mnemonics and non-traditional methods, rather than assume that you need to study as you did at university. Children have more flexibility and are able to go with new styles of learning more easily.
In my time at the Language Centre I have found that the key ingredient for all learners is motivation – Adults are able to visualize themselves speaking another language and enjoying the communicating with their new contacts and immersing themselves into a new community. Can you imagine sitting in a café in France, speaking French with the waiters? If you can visualise that, you can achieve it!!!
Adults appreciate the advantages that speaking a second language gives them – the social interaction, the sense of community, the easier travel and just that indescribable – WOW factor – “I just had a conversation in Russian” – this provides the motivation to continue and achieve milestones you didn’t think were possible.
Catherine Snow, PhD, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, stated in an interview, “The evidence clearly demonstrates that there is no critical period for second-language learning, no biologically determined constraint on language-learning capacity that emerges at a particular age, nor any maturational process which requires that older language learners function differently than younger language learners.” In fact, Snow says, “Older learners have advantages. They already know one language (and sometimes more than one) quite well and have practiced with the linguistic capacities that speed language acquisition. They are typically better at intentional learning: They have study strategies, mnemonic devices, literacy skills, and other resources.”
Our oldest student is 86…. Anyone younger has no excuse..
What language do YOU want to learn? Please leave comments we would love to hear your thoughts.
Am I too old to learn a new language? The Guardian 13/09/2004