- "I gave up studying philosophy. After all, when will I ever need it in my daily life?"
- "There's no way I'll ever sing like Adele, so what's the point in even taking lessons?"
- "What's the use of learning tennis if I won't even be good enough to compete?"
Let's be honest: we've all heard (or maybe even used) some of the following excuses:
- "I didn't start learning when I was little, so why start now?"
- "I just don't think my brain could ever get used to learning a new language."
- "I'm too old to learn a language."
- "I'll never have a perfect Spanish accent, so why even bother?"
- "I'm just not good with languages."
Flash forward a few years, and I'm living in Spain and speaking Spanish (and even Catalan) on a daily basis. And I'm just a small success story compared to others. Adults throughout the world - from Russia to Kansas and everywhere in between - have realized that they can be successful language learners and enjoy doing it.
So why are we so hard on ourselves? What do we need to know to prepare ourselves for language learning?
Let's take a look at 5 essential things you need to know about adults and language learning.
1. Yes, your "old" brain CAN learn a new language.First and foremost, it's essential to know that adults can learn a new language, no matter how old they are. Even 80-year-olds can learn a new language. Amazingly, we can even learn better than children in some aspects.
While it is true that children are able to reach higher language proficiency sooner than adults because their brains are more flexible to the new rules, adults typically progress through the earlier stages of language learning faster than children. This is because adults typically approach language learning with an adult problem-solving process, which allows them to identify the rules and patterns that make picking up a new language easier.
Not only can adults pick up the first stages of a language faster than children thanks to their logical approach, one study on second language pronunciation even found that some learners who started as adults scored just as well as native speakers on a pronunciation test.
That's right: it's even possible for adults to have great pronunciation.
Since bilinguals have an easier time learning a third language, research has shown that adult learners who are literate in both of their languages and who possess meta-linguistic knowledge (knowledge about language and how it works) find learning a third language significantly easier.
You can learn a language no matter how old you are.
2. Adults are more motivated to learn.If you're learning a language as an adult, odds are that you're probably doing it for personal reasons. Maybe you're learning Chinese to be able to immerse yourself in Chinese culture for your next vacation, learning Spanish so you can talk more with your neighbors, or Russian to be able to speak with your significant other.
Either way, you're doing it more for you than for anyone else.
This is extremely important to keep in mind, since motivation is one of the most crucial elements to language learning success.
Staying motivated is the number one reason for language learning success, and lack of motivation is also the number one reason for failure. Adults are able to harness and focus this motivation to their benefit.
3. Vocabulary acquisition has no age.One of the most important parts of learning a new language is learning all of the new vocabulary. That being said, here's some more good news for adult language learners: age does not determine your ability to learn vocabulary.
Here's what does:
- Your motivation
- The time you dedicate to learning
- Your learning environment
- Your use of vocabulary learning hacks (See the top 10 Spanish hacks here and the top 10 French hacks here)
We can focus on learning the most practical words first, identify helpful patterns, take advantage of cognates, develop our own mnemonic devices, keep a helpful vocabulary notebook and maximize our time and motivation.
4. Adults have more control over their learning environment.We adults have something crucial that children do not: control over our daily lives. If we want to reward ourselves with candy every time we practice our Spanish at the grocery store, we can do that. If we want to wake up at 4:00 am to Skype with a friend in Korea, we go for it.
We also have control over our learning environments. That means that we can experiment and discover how we learn best and then take advantage of it. We don't need to rely on others to tell us what to do or how to do it.
If we learn better in a classroom, we can start taking classes. If we learn better sitting in our pajamas in front of our laptop, we can get ourselves a new pair of cozy pajamas. If we learn better singing German at the top of our lungs in our car, we can go for it.
All it takes is a bit of trial and error to find the environment that works best.
5. The more we learn, the easier it becomes.One of the reasons why adults supposedly learn slower than children is simply because we're out of practice. After all, it's probably been a while since those good old days of algebra and geography.
Every time we learn something new, our brain creates a new synapse, or connection. This increases the plasticity of our brains and is one of the many benefits of language learning. This makes it easier to retain the skills you've learned, improve them, and continue learning new things.
That's also why it's easier to re-learn old skills more quickly than it is to learn new skills (something that comes in very handy when you land in Italy and it's time to start speaking after it's been a while, I might add). It all comes back to you.
The more we learn, the more accustomed our brains become to learning and the easier it becomes. We'll see results more quickly, we'll gain momentum, and we'll become more hooked on language learning.
Before we know it, it will become a fun and rewarding lifelong process.
It's All Up to YouWhether you're 18 or 80, you can learn a language at any age. If you want to learn a language or improve your language skills, the only thing that's getting in your way is your own mindset.
As Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right."
Always remember that learning a language is a process that takes practice and becomes easier with time.
In the end, YOU decide how quickly you become fluent in a language. With the right attitude, dedication, situation, and motivation, any language is within your reach.
By Andrea Reisenauer, guest blogger. Andrea Reisenauer is a language lover, ESL teacher Rocket Languages fan with a Master's degree in Translation. She speaks Spanish, Catalan, and Italian and is currently studying French.