Are You Ever Too Old to Learn a Foreign Language?

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Age-net Asks : Are You Ever Too Old to Learn a Foreign Language?

‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is a well-used proverb in the English language, but is it true? We will all have had at least one experience of trying to teach an older relative how to work a simple digital camera, how to play a game on the X Box or how to send an email. These instances all prove that it can be much harder to learn something new later in life, but at least some of us will have succeeded, proving that it can be done.

Languages are hard to learn at any age

Languages are notoriously difficult to learn at any stage of life. Some people are extremely lucky and can pick up a new language in a matter of months, whilst most of us struggle trying to ask the most simple of questions. As with learning anything new, the key is practice. If you move to a different country, you will inevitably find it easier to learn that language, simply because you won’t be able to help being surrounded by it.

Learning languages is a great way to keep your brain active in your later years. There are studies which show that learning languages can help defend your brain against Alzheimer’s and dementia, because you form more links between different parts of your brain as you learn new words and phrases. For this reason, stroke recovery is often much quicker in people who speak more than one language, because their brain is more used to making different paths from one part to another.

Discover new cultures

It’s also a great way to discover new cultures and people you wouldn’t have the opportunity to speak to otherwise. Learning a different language is the only way you will be able to communicate with people who don’t speak English. This is a great way to speak to new people and learn about completely different cultures. It also opens up doors to allow you to travel to more remote places where you won’t have to rely on the locals speaking English to get what you need.

Parts of language learning become easier as you get older. The older you are, the more words you have come across in your lifetime, so the larger your vocabulary is. This can be extremely useful in learning new vocabulary in a different language, not only because your brain is used to holding a large number of words, but also because the likelihood of you being able to connect a new word with one you already know is much higher.

The part of language-learning which gets harder as you age is getting to grips with a new grammatical structure and syntax.

If you are looking to be able to communicate your basic needs on a daily basis, to have a polite conversation with the locals and to understand a bit of local TV, chances are you will get there relatively quickly with a few classes and lots of practice. If you are looking to become completely fluent in a new language then it will be considerably harder than when you were in your teens or early twenties. This doesn’t mean that it is impossible. You will simply have to be strict with yourself and allow yourself only access to the other language, refraining from speaking English as much as you possibly can. The more you practice, the better you will get.

A new hobby

You could treat learning a new language as a new hobby. If you stay positive and treat it as a fun activity, not as something that you have to do, then you will learn a lot more, a lot quicker. This is one of the main advantages that older students have over teenagers when it comes to learning a new language. Later in life we make the active choice to learn a language which makes us much more prepared to put in the time and effort. When you are being told to do something you will never do as good a job as if you were to choose to do it yourself. You should make the most of this advantage and really push yourself.

Just like any other productive hobby, you will be so proud of yourself when you start to see results. When you manage to make it through your first whole conversation with a native speaker, it will all be worth it.

There are many researchers who claim that there are no added difficulties to learning a language when you get older; it is simply that the repercussions of getting it wrong seem worse. That is to say, we don’t push ourselves into saying something we don’t quite remember how to say in case we get it wrong. We worry so much about getting a word wrong that we don’t notice the bits we are getting right. There seems to be a huge lack of self-confidence and a feeling of embarrassment in adults when it comes to speaking a second language. If this is the case, then it should be easy to overcome.

Organising yourself a tandem partner will help take away some of the embarrassment. That is, find a native speaker of the language you are learning who also wants to learn English and agree to help each other out. You could meet for coffee once a week and just speak in one language for half an hour and then swap over for the second 30 minutes. If you are both having a go at speaking a language which isn’t your mother tongue, it can help to take away the pressure a little bit so that you feel more confident when speaking to someone you have never met before.

Remember, in a real situation, if you have to speak to someone in a different language then it means that you speak their language better than they speak yours. This small fact may not seem that important, but it could give you the confidence you need to soldier on and make yourself understood.

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