You’re Never Too Old to Learn Another Language
We have all heard that if you don’t learn a second or third language when you’re young, then it’s too late. I’m here to tell you that’s not true!
The latest research from Brown University has debunked the theory that older people cannot learn new things as easily as younger people. These studies have found that adults can retain information too, they just do it in a different part of the brain.
Everyone has brain plasticity – this is the capacity of the brain to develop and change throughout life. Increased plasticity occurs through learning, new memories, and experiences. Younger people experience plasticity (growth) of white matter in the cortex part of the brain, and older people experience plasticity of white matter in the visual field.
Bottom line: plasticity doesn’t decline with age, it just changes.
Another study by Stanford and York University professors tried to determine the best time for people to learn a foreign language. They studied Spanish and Chinese native-speakers who were learning English as a foreign language and wanted to determine what the cutoff age is for introducing a foreign language. Researchers have debated the cutoff age for decades…is the best time to begin learning a foreign language at age five, six, 12 or 15? The study here used age 15 and 20 as the age by which a language should be introduced, and they evaluated what happened if language was introduced beyond age 20.
The results showed that achieving native-like proficiency does decline with age, but the amount of decrease and the age that the decline begins to occur is up for debate. Further, to predict how well someone will learn a foreign language depends heavily on the number of years of formal education received, socioeconomic status and resources.
Research just doesn’t have a definitive answer yet.
However, there is enough evidence that age is not an excuse to shy away from learning a new language.
Scientists are discovering new things about the brain every day, so these findings are not conclusive by any means. It is simply more information to encourage us to keep learning, regardless of the number of birthday candles on our cake.
Let’s take a look at what to do next:
Unlock Cognitive Benefits
To keep up brain flexibility (plasticity) you will want to keep your mind challenged; this will maintain current brain cells, create new pathways, and stimulate communication in the brain. An active mind helps with memory retention, multitasking, and can even help fight off early cognitive decline.
Some ideas of new things you can do are: take music lessons – vocal or instrumental, design a new garden bed – cut flowers or edibles, teach or take an art class, join a book club, volunteer for a local community project, or learn a new language.
The Key to Learning a New Language is Motivation, Not Age
Youngsters can learn another language only to fall short and never use their skills, thus forgetting what they initially grasped. Sometimes children are forced to speak another language –to communicate with family members, translate for parents, or early pressure from parents to have a competitive advantage — and these kids don’t have the interest to continue using it when they grow up.
If an adult wants to learn another language, then interest will motivate them to put forth the effort and time to speed up the process and absorb as much as they can.
If you are motivated to communicate cross-culturally and speak another language then you can do it!
Adults Learn Vocabulary Faster than Children
Some aspects of language become easier as you mature.
While children can pick up accents and mimic sounds quicker than adults, adults have a better understanding of proper language structure and richer vocabulary, and therefore can retain advanced words faster and easier than kids.
For example, a child might say in Spanish, “fui a la granja/ I went to the farm.” They are communicating that they went to the farm and getting the point across to the listener in direct and child-like simplicity. However, an adult may want to explain more, as adults tend to do, and say “Fui a la granja de lavanda en la península y vi vistas hermosas de las montañas/ I went to a lavender farm on the peninsula, and saw beautiful views of the mountains.”
New words can be traced back to your pre-existing knowledge and understanding of phrases or descriptions, and this helps you retain words quickly!
By Now You Have Learned How To Learn
You no longer rely on others to help you carve out homework time. As you get older, your motivation comes from within and you choose what skills you want to spend your time on. You also know what kind of learner you are and simply what works, and what doesn’t.
This increased self-awareness will help you cut to the chase and learn Spanish! Spanish Academy guarantees that you will be speaking Spanish in your first lesson, ¡vamanos!
Spanish Academy Helps Adult Learners
As discussed above, adults learn best in the visual field part of their brain. Spanish Academy will help you grasp Spanish by targeting this visual learning style. We have a different approach to teaching language than standard textbooks and classrooms – we offer immersion-style classes that use a lot of visuals.
Our blog on immersion discusses how teachers and programs that teach “immersion-style” use a variety of visuals: “this includes gestures, modeling, real-life objects to help illustrate a theme or situation, and lots of pictures or videos. Another is open-ended questions that encourage conversation as opposed to inquiries that only garner a basic “yes” or “no.”
Our one-on-one or two-on-one online classes will give you facetime with your teacher and they can use visual prompts and handouts to help you better grasp the new language material.
Learn a New Skill Today
Try our free class and begin expanding your horizons – and brain plasticity- today!
I began studying Spanish at age 11 and have been interested in language and culture ever since! While at University, I studied abroad in Spain and Costa Rica and got a B.A. in Environmental Economics with a minor in Spanish. After spending over a decade in Corporate America, I now enjoy the simpler things in life.
Reach out if you have ideas you’d like to see in our next blog.
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