How can you still learn a new language when you’re older?


If you want to learn a new language, age does not have to be a problem

Even though you probably learned more than one language in school, your French, German, Spanish or English might not be what it used to be. And now, it feels impossible to still learn a new language. How can you still expand your foreign vocabulary when you get older?

Young brains

When you are younger, you don’t think too much about it; learning is fairly easy and you don’t even like practicing those foreign words so you don’t pay too much attention in class. But as always: you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone and learning a new language becomes much harder when you get older. According to Matt Leonard of the University of San Francisco, this is because of our brain plasticity. Brain plasticity is the ability of our brain to learn and process new information. All the information that kids receive is basically new information; they are still learning about the world and everything in it. The plasticity of their brains, or their ability to learn new things, is higher than it is for adults.

When you get older, you separate all the sounds you hear around you. Categorizing them in ‘important’ and ‘not important’ sounds. The sounds that your parents use to talk to you, your mother tongue, are labeled as important. The rest of the information we basically ignore. Leonard explains to Scientias that when we get older, our brains prefer stability, causing us to stick with the old and ignore the ‘new’. Your brain prefers the old information. Which means that learning a new language provides a conflict between our need for stability (the old) and the need to process new information (the new).

Learning when you’re older

So is learning a new language as an adult completely hopeless? Definitely not. As an adult you have a better understanding of grammar and a wider vocabulary in your mother tongue. This means that it would be easier to transfer that knowledge to a new language. All you need is discipline and perseverance. You need to practice a lot, repeat all the words you’re learning and try to speak the language when you’re on vacation. According to Rick de Graaff, a professor in multilingualism, if you have to speak the language (for example during a vacation), you might learn a language faster than you would by just studying it. In an interviews with Radar he says that being submerged in the culture and social context of the language, could be beneficial.

So if one of your new year’s resolutions is to learn a new language, then don’t worry; you can still improve your language skills. No matter how old you are!

Also read: 17 Common Things You Never Knew The Name Of

Source: Max Vandaag, Scientias, Radar | Image: Pexels, Leeloo Thefirst