The older you get the harder it gets.

General discussion about learning languages
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mentecuerpo
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The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby mentecuerpo » Thu Jan 09, 2020 5:29 pm

https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... 14&t=11762

There is a linear relationship between age and language learning.

If you want to learn more than a few languages, once you have learned a few, and you have acquired the skill to learn languages (BTW, you learn a lot about language learning skills in this forum). I think that strategically makes sense to learn a language distant to your native language first and let the easiest ones for later.

For example, if your native language is an Asian one, it will make sense to learn English the younger you are, because English will be hard for Chinese speakers. The same for a European adult trying to learn Chinese.

We hosted a Chinese girl in our home for three years, and she improved significantly. She is now studying at a university in New Zealand.
At first, her English was basic and weak; she made significant improvements, though no miracles, I think she was too invested in iChat and her Chinese world and Chinese friends. Despite that, she made tremendous progress in her English skills. She has a linguistic advantage for life.

The point is that that the younger you are to tackle a language, the better.
The older you are, the harder it is. I am not saying it not impossible to learn a language in the last decades of life; I am saying it gets harder over the years.

I believe that the findings are back up by research.

For example, I am in my 50's learning German for the first time. I will not probably achieve the same proficiency in German as if I had started studying German during my 30's or 20's or even better, teen years.

You probably know people who speak a second language like a native. I would bet that they probably learned the language before age 17-yo. Exceptions to the rule is if your first language is closely related to your second language. For example, a Dutch person who learns German as an adult. An Italian adult person who learns Spanish as an adult, or a Spanish person who learns Portuguese as an adult. Because the first language is closely related to the second language, it may be possible to achieve a native-like pronunciation and grammar. But if the language is not a related one, such as Spanish and English, then the younger you learn the language, the better.

if you are a parent of children younger than 17-yo, it will be a good idea to help them learn a foreign language now, and if you have the possibilities, abroad study for one year if possible. That would be gift for life.

Edited Note for the readers of this post:
I posted this blog on Thursday, today Wednesday I do an edit to the original post. My post is a controversial one, and many members have expressed their disagreement, indicating that language learning is not affected by age and that my claims that there is a linear relationship between age and language learning lacks scientific evidence.
Last edited by mentecuerpo on Wed Jan 15, 2020 10:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby Kraut » Thu Jan 09, 2020 6:39 pm

No, Kaufmann vivo ejemplo
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby nbeing » Thu Jan 09, 2020 8:00 pm

Following on from Kraut's succinct reply, I refuse to buy into this age-related nonsense. I am 60 and have learned five of my nine languages since age 50; there are two main reasons for this.

First of all I know how to learn and more importantly how I learn - knowledge that I didn't have at 17 or 30. Secondly I have the most important resource of all, time. I'm semi-retired and can devote 3-5 hours a day to learning, something which just isn't possible for younger people juggling a family, career, hectic social life.

Yes, we slow down as we age, but I've learned more in the last ten years than in the preceding forty, so wouldn't change a thing. I'm truly excited about the coming year in which I plan to continue the journey.
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby Cavesa » Thu Jan 09, 2020 8:46 pm

mentecuerpo wrote:There is a linear relationship between age and language learning.


Nope. Nope. Nope.

Yes, it is in general easier to start younger. But it is definitely not linear. And the curve will vary between individuals, and also depending on the science articles you choose to back your claims with.

The first "critical age" is the line between storing stuff as the native language and as foreign languages. The authors point everywhere from 1 year to 5. Then, there is the theory that teachers seem to preach, about the pronunciation being just a doomed caused after you're 7/10/12/16/18, depending on what classes they're selling. Well, I've seen people having great or horrible pronunciation, who have started at various age. And some people are able to learn very good pronunciation later, while some suck at it even in their childhood. There are various factors, one of the often mentioned ones is musical talent.

The cognitive skills develop until the early 20's. You may have better neuroplasticity at 8, but you know much more about how to learn at 18. Just compare how little content do textbooks for the younger children have, compared to those for teens. (Of course comparing books meant to be used for a similar amount of time). There are good reasons for that. Younger children tend to have shorter attention span, less developed learning skills, lower discipline, smaller amount of other data to relate the new knowledge to. The neuroplasticity is important, but it is by far not everything.

The cognitive decline starts sometime in your 20's. Some say 23, some say 25. But it starts that early. It starts slowly. It will go slower for some people, than for others. It will depend on your health, your life style, your genetics, your education (a brain with tons of "extra" synapses simply works better even when losing a noticeable part of them).

The decline speeds up with age. Most people are likely to notice much more of a difference in their 60's than in their 30's. At a certain point, it may even decline geometrically or quadratically.

While it is generally true, that it is better to start young (and I'd say it is not just because of the neuroplasticity. If you start earlier, you can profit from the skills earlier). It is good to remind governments of this, whenever school funding gets discussed.

But it is often a very harmful way to discuss language learning, for these reasons:

-it discourages the older learners. Which is stupid. And the age of "tool old for languages" is ridiculously low in our aging societies. Ok, let's be ageist, for the sake of the argument, and assume that a 50 year ancient person will achieve B1 in no less than ten years of work (which is a really bad assumption, few people are that bad at languages, and it is not because of their age usually). So what? They'll still have 10-25 years left to enjoy their skills!

-it is an aggressive manner to push parents to pay for early language lessons at any cost. Not just financial (even though it is important. Lessons starting earlier than officially at school are expensive). The well meaning parents are so convinced that age is all that matters, that they settle even for horrible (although sometimes native) teachers. A three year old won't learn that much anyways in two hours per week (and needs to learn and do tons of other stuff too). And a five year old can already be discouraged from language learning, due to an incompetent teacher.

-it disregards individual talents, struggles, and potential. And it makes people underestimate the value of effort.

-it strengthens the harmful myth, that immersion is the only way. Cause a child=immersion, and a loving parent=the one who pays for a year abroad. Wrong. You can get to a high level and with solid pronunciation without ever going abroad. But the families without the means to pay for a year abroad (or with other reasons to not do this) often simply give up.
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby gsbod » Thu Jan 09, 2020 9:31 pm

I'd like to think that when I get to my 50s I'll follow the example of Mary Hobson, who started learning Russian in her 50s, took a degree in it in her 60s and became an acclaimed translator of Pushkin.
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby Teango » Thu Jan 09, 2020 9:54 pm

Cavesa wrote:Ok, let's be ageist, for the sake of the argument, and assume that a 50 year ancient person will achieve B1 in no less than ten years of work (which is a really bad assumption, few people are that bad at languages, and it is not because of their age usually). So what? They'll still have 10-25 years left to enjoy their skills!

Time to hit the gym, eat more greens, and move to a country with a higher average life expectancy. ;)
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby Speakeasy » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:11 pm

mentecuerpo, I do not at all mind you disparaging me by reason of my age, truly I don’t. Nevertheless, I would suggest that arguing from the particular to the general based on a sample size of “one” across a population of several billions is not recognized as a sound method of reasoning. :mrgreen:
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mentecuerpo
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby mentecuerpo » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:18 pm

gsbod wrote:I'd like to think that when I get to my 50s I'll follow the example of Mary Hobson, who started learning Russian in her 50s, took a degree in it in her 60s and became an acclaimed translator of Pushkin.


We never stop learning, no matter how old.

There is nothing wrong with learning languages at any age, including in older years. It brings cognitive benefits, keeps the mind active; it is a fun activity that can enhance traveling, reading, and listening content in the original language, and probably even delay the onset of dementia.

MH is an excellent model to follow.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Hobson

Then, the polyglot Stev Kaufmann, always learning new languages and leading by example and teaching us how to do it. He started learning Russian when he was 60 yo.
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mentecuerpo
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby mentecuerpo » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:46 pm

Cavesa wrote:
mentecuerpo wrote:It is an aggressive manner to push parents to pay for early language lessons at any cost. Not just financial (even though it is important. Lessons starting earlier than officially at school are expensive). The well meaning parents are so convinced that age is all that matters, that they settle even for horrible (although sometimes native) teachers. A three year old won't learn that much anyways in two hours per week (and needs to learn and do tons of other stuff too). And a five year old can already be discouraged from language learning, due to an incompetent teacher.


I think immersion works best for children. Paying private tutors can help, or bilingual schools, but immersion makes all the difference in the world. Even one or two years of immersion can contribute significantly, and the younger, the better.

We can all enjoy the benefit of immersion at any age, but children will thrive in their new language skills. As you say, they will probably not do very well with a language teacher in a non-immersion environment. It is hard to keep children motivated to learn a language; however, when they are having fun and mingling with other children and hearing the language everywhere for some time, the magic happens.
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby mentecuerpo » Fri Jan 10, 2020 12:06 am

Examples to follow:
Here is a link I found about Steve K. learning Russian at 60-yo.
https://japantoday.com/category/feature ... w-language

Kató Lomb wrote in the introduction to the fourth edition: This new edition has strengthened my conviction that self-assurance, motivation, and a good method plays a much more important role in language learning than the vague concept of innate ability, and that dealing with languages is an effective and joyful means of developing human relationships and also of preserving one´s mental capacity and spiritual balance.
From Polyglot, How I learn languages. Kató Lomb
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