How adults learn languages as fast as kids do

"I can't learn a new language, not at my age."


We hear a lot about how and why kids pick up a new language like the proverbial sponges.

And they do.

So why is it we so rarely hear that us adults can match them? There's even the implied suggestion that if you don't learn a new language when you are young, you've 'missed the boat'.

But it's never too late, as I am going to show you.

I am also going to demonstrate that the speed at which you learn a new language has nothing to do with age.

First, what factors should we take into account as far as children's ability to learn a new language is concerned?

Mother reading to children
So attentive! So learning is easy.

That children have a natural ability for picking up a second language is not in doubt. Children have:

  1. No preconceived ideas
  2. Few distractions
  3. An expanding brain capacity
  4. Implicit language learning skills (learning without conscious thought)

These four points can be summarised by a single one: kids are naturally inclined towards language learning.

So what about adults? Well, here's the news: adults are natural language learners too. Look again at the list above. Applying it to adults, we can only discount - with any certainty - the point about expanding brain capacity. We cannot say for sure that adults have preconceived ideas about language learning, distractions to prevent them learning, or an inability to learn without conscious thought.

Besides, what if there were a compensating factor with regard to brain capacity? According to a study published by New Scientist, there is. They have found that: "having a grown-up brain has advantages. Adults seem able to recognize patterns, and apply their knowledge, far better than children."

Benny Lewis, of quotes the same study in his most informative TEDx talk. Benny was once monolingual and convinced he had no genuine language learning ability. Now a polyglot, he says that adults are only held back by a series of excuses which have no validity. These excuses are:

  • I don't have the language gene (There's no such thing, says Benny)
  • Kids are better learners than adults (The trick is to live the language, not to study it)
  • I can't travel to the country (But you can virtually, via internet)
  • I have a bad memory for learning all that vocabulary (Review the words before they are forgotten; use word association techniques)
  • I will frustrate native speakers (Forget perfectionism; embarrass yourself)

Motivation is absolutely key. You will notice that kids are very naturally motivated, very 'into' what they do.

You can be too. If you want to learn a language, not only is there nothing to stop you, there is nothing to stop you learning it just as fast as any child.

Go for it!

Have you started learning a language later in life? How was the experience? How is the experience? Let me know...

See you next time, Jim

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