The older you get the harder it gets.

General discussion about learning languages
nbeing
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby nbeing » Fri Jan 10, 2020 4:08 pm

As you get older three things happen. The first is your memory goes...and I can't remember the other two.
Last edited by nbeing on Fri Jan 10, 2020 5:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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mentecuerpo
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby mentecuerpo » Fri Jan 10, 2020 4:30 pm

Iversen wrote:By the way: It will be interesting to see whether the mobile phone generation will be able to remember anything at all when it reaches my age. FOr instance I still remember town plans rather well. Will that skill die out when the GPS generation gets old? Do people with GPS on their phone actually remember maps at all when their small screens only show the next kilometer or so and where to turn the next time?


The important thing is that you are always learning not just about languages but about multiple topics (you also share your knowledge with others in this forum). By the way, your history of music is fantastic and a great introduction. It can direct self-study using your music history as a little guide.

Going back on topic, yes, I am on the same boat with you. In my childhood and teenage years, we did not have the internet. In El Salvador, it was hard to learn a language. Imagine the Spanish language everywhere in neighboring countries, the learning was in the classroom, with very little exposure to original content. Most teachers were local teachers who had never traveled abroad. All textbooks had been translated into Spanish, even medical books.

About learning languages with the iPhone generation. I was surprised to see that my daughter, who is 11-yo, was born with an iPhone on her hands!
Well, it seems like that, anyway. I have a hard time motivating my daughter to learn French. Here in Arizona, there are no bilingual schools for French (only two, and they don't go all the way to high school). In a nonimmersion environment, we adults have the tools and motivation to learn new languages that children lack. My daughter is fixed to the iPhone, watching content in English. Making her study French twice a week is a real struggle, even more, now thas she is in her teenage years. She is not motivated at all. I am not a French speaker, so I cannot talk to her in French. I am also learning French, so I am making way more progress in French than her, due to her lack of motivation and willingness to learn.

So how do you motivate children to learn a foreign language when they are not immersed in the target language? This is another topic on its own. But this forum is for language learners who are motivated to learn new languages.

On my daughter, I think my solution will be to send her to France for a year on a student exchange program. Just like we hosted the Chinese girl in our family for a few years. I want her to learn the language before she turns into a young adult. As the above journal article explains, children have an advantage over adults in a target language natural environment in an immerse environment provided that the exposure is massive and long enough.

As we age, we continue to have the capacity to learn new things, language included. We may enjoy the benefits of more time to follow our passions. I can tell you that during my 20's and 30's I was too busy with medical school and residency training to worry about learning languages.

Thank god, my father sent me to the USA on my teen years to learn English by immersion. That contributed to having a good enough English to pass my medical certification exams in the US and to do good enough in my interviews, which helped me secure a postgraduate residency training in the USA. Now, I have medical students, and I ask them about their interest in learning languages. They have no time to learn a new language as much as they would like; they may be motivated but do not have the time to dedicate to their passion other than medicine. They will probably have to postpone learning a new language for later years.
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mentecuerpo
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby mentecuerpo » Sat Jan 11, 2020 12:56 am

I hate to continue fulling the controversy, but, before I forget, here it goes.

The paper refers about foreign accents and age. At least on the pronunciation aspect, the paper supports the earlier, the better argument for individuals in an immersion environment — Italian born immigrants to Canada.

Factors affecting strength of perceived foreign accent in a second language
James Emil Flege
Department of Biocommunication, University of Alabama, Birmingham, Alabama 35294
Murray J. Munro
Department of Linguistics, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6, Canada
Ian R. A. MacKay


See the paper here:

http://jimflege.com/files/Flege_Munro_f ... A_1995.pdf
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby Ezra » Sat Jan 11, 2020 9:19 am

Tom wrote:I'm 54 and started trying to learn my first foreign language (Spanish), a little over two years ago. I would like to become advanced or at least high intermediate. I was actually hoping to learn more than one language, but it's taking longer than I expected to progress and is much more difficult than I imagined. So I may just stop at one language and try to keep improving on it, but I'm not sure yet. I would guess that it's probably quite a bit easier to learn a language when you are older, if you have already learned other languages in the past. I'm disappointed that I'm not further along, but I'm going to keep at it and see how it turns out.

it does seems that starting anything new past childhood/teens becomes more difficult. I do not find learning languages became more difficult for me during past decade -- on the contrary, actually, but I was involved in language learning this way or another almost all my life. On the other side, my progress in drawing is extremely modest. So age has something with our declining ability to learn something new, but it seems to me it is not as much feeble mind/weak body problem (due to age) as being too set in our ways. Trying to learn drawing gives to me a feeling of discomfort which I have to push through. I remember that in childhood/teens starting something (not necessarily getting to any results) was much easier. These days to start something new I have to plan it and convince myself: I am not that old yet to give up :).
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby Cavesa » Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:40 pm

Iversen wrote:When I was young we didn't have computers and Google and that kind of stuff so we had to rely more on our memory and on the things we had written down or bought in the form of books and magazines. Nowadays it doesn't matter quite as much to remember everything because we can look things up on the internet (although you only can search efficiently if you already know something about the thing you try to find). Therefore we had another attitude to our information sources - we simply treated them with more reverence (which includes that we wrote things down by hand, which in itself is a way to memorize them better). Now one of the things that influence how well you remember things is how much attention you spend on them, and this means that in a world with on-the-fly access to information we may remember less simply because we have become more distracted and less attentive to the information we pick up. Maybe also more lazy...

By the way: It will be interesting to see whether the mobile phone generation will be able to remember anything at all when it reaches my age. FOr instance I still remember town plans rather well. Will that skill die out when the GPS generation gets old? Do people with GPS on their phone actually remember maps at all when their small screens only show the next kilometer or so and where to turn the next time?


This is an extremely good point. Research shows such a decline already. We are not used to memorisation, as a generation, and the children of today even less. The problem is also school. Everybody is now obsessed with "let's not make them memorise books, let's teach them to think!". Well, you cannot think (especially critically), without a certain base of information. You cannot efficiently look up things, without knowing how to connect them to the rest. Without a reasonable knowledge base, the thinking is just stupid babbling without sense. What is such a reasonable knowledge base, that is a huge question. But I find it extremely unfortunate, that instead of being taught how to memorise stuff efficiently, and how to pick what to memorise or not, children are being taught to not learn much at all.

I've recently read some very interesting articles by an experienced maths teacher. He said that majority of the problems his high schoolers face in the maths classes (the peak of the logical thinking oriented subjects!) are not caused by lack of thinking or logic abilities. They are problems of memory. The children are not used to regular practice and to remembering stuff for later use. They do just fine at the beginning of any topic. But a few classes later, they struggle, as they do not remember the stuff they are now supposed to apply.

This is even more remarkable at universities. I've read some final works by people in humanities (some out of curiosity about the subject, some because I knew the people). And I was horrified by the low level, and I think the decline in stuff people are supposed to memorise is one of the reasons. They were supposed to do some research and analyse the results, to compare stuff. But it looked as if a high schooler with no previous knowledge of the subject was doing it.

So, I believe the memory of my generation and younger will be worse than that of the older generation.

So I think that it's too easy just to measure retention decline through retention decline tests. You also have to consider how information is presented and how it is treated in realistic situations. That doesn't mean that I don't believe in age based deterioration of our mental storage mechanisms - we probably do lose something with age, but old people may compensate with mechanisms that are much harder to test in a scientifically sound way. In other words: you can do rigorous testing based on the retention of irrelevant and boring syllables on a screen or things like that, but language is learned in a complex way, and simple retention tasks may not reflect the way we learn linguistic things.


The standard memory screening tests consist of several types of exercises. Some are retention of a few words (without a hint, or with, if necessary). Some test the working memory, being able to follow a simple command. Some test the ability to recall words you know since forever. And to copy a picture. These screening tests are limited in some ways, and really not meant to test well functioning and educated people. But they are definitely relevant at monitoring the decline of a person, especially when it comes to the ability to learn new stuff.

The cognitive decline (dementia or not) is mostly an issue from 60 years up. It is not always primarily about losing words. Terry Pratchett spoke about it publicly (and that was one of the best things for public education about the disease that ever happened). One of his main problems was losing the ability to write, and partially to read. The shapes simply looked the same. That can definitely be a problem for language learning (and of course also the more important daily activities). But troubles with finding words, remembering a group of words, and so on, that is usually one of the primary problems.

Very subjectively, the older students of universities talk about this too. I've met medicine students, who had started in their 30's or 40's. And finished. But they definitely had to put in more work, than they probably would have needed in their 20's (and not just because of having a family and/or job). But they compensated for this disadvantage very well with discipline, motivation, study techniques.


Right now I simply cannot say with certainty whether I learned languages faster forty or fifty years ago than today because I don't learn them in the same way and I have lost some learning tools and gained others - and I'm not even the same kind of learner anymore (new methods, other surroundings). The only thing I know is that I still add new languages - but for the time being mostly in their written form since that how I study them.


This gives me a lot of hope! Thanks! Really, it is not so black and white, experience is very valuable.
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mentecuerpo
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby mentecuerpo » Sat Jan 11, 2020 4:35 pm

Speakeasy wrote: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:


I had to read your post multiple times before I got the meaning of it.
I had to use Google Translate from English to Spanish. I usually don't use AI engines for English, it is my strong language, but here it helped me.

After I read it in Spanish, I understood your sense of humor. :lol:
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby Carmody » Sat Jan 11, 2020 6:27 pm

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mentecuerpo
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby mentecuerpo » Sat Jan 11, 2020 8:16 pm



Thank you for the link.

To aid my memory I took some notes:


The article appeared in the NY Times yesterday 01.11.2020, by Dr. Daniel Levitin, who is a neuroscientist.

He starts by telling the reader, that like many of his friends, he forgets names that he used to recall without any efforts. He finds that often while going to a different room in his home, he could not remember the object or thing that made the trip to the room.

He is aware that despite these memory lapses, his long-term memory is intact as evidence by remembering junior school peers, details about his wedding day, among others.

As a neuroscientist, he knows that short term memory lapses are not necessarily associated with age.

He describes short term memory in plain English, avoiding neuroscientist Jargon. Dr. Levint explains that short term memory stores your thoughts in real-time so that the information is available for the span of a few seconds. For example, keep in topic on a conversation and not going on a tangent, being able to do some mental number calculations, or walking to a place in the house to retrieve an object.

Dr. Daniel L explains that short memory can be easily disrupted. That short-term memory is related to paying attention. So, as I understood, if your focus changes to another thing or thought, this new thought can disrupt the short-term memory by distraction. Imagine someone asking you a question or the phone ringing.

He points out that our ability to automatically restore the contents of the short-term memory declines with every decade after 30.

However, age is not the main factor, as many will assume. Dr. Levitin points out, for example, that his college students as young as 20 yo make frequent short-term memory errors. The students make errors like the ones commonly made by 70 yo people.

The main age difference is our inner dialogue, what we tell ourselves when we are aware of the short-term memory lapses. A 20 yo may interpret the forgetfulness as “I have a lot on my plate.” A 70 yo may say to himself, oh no, “I hope this is not an early sign of dementia.”

(On a personal level, I worry about dementia. Embracing language learning is part of my solution).

He goes on to say that a lapse in short term memory does not indicate the onset of a brain disease.

He reports that people in their 85 and 90 in the absence of brain disease do not show memory decline according to a study in the year 2018.

Furthermore, some aspects of memory improve with age.

He accounts for the subjective experience that older adults seem to have problems recalling names, indicating that there is a generalized cognitive slowing with age, but that with a little more time, older adults do just fine.

He points out another factor, including that older adults, have more memories stored compared to younger people. So, it takes more time to retrieve the information. This mental process has been simulated with computer software.
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby Lisa » Sat Jan 11, 2020 9:09 pm

I tried to learn Vietnamese when I was in my late teens. I simply could not near the differences in the vowels; English is kind of flexible on how long and round the vowels are, and those Vietnamese o and u variants just always sounded the same to me. The tones weren't easy, but I could hear and produce them with effort, but the vowels were too much. Chinese was easier. Perhaps this is an inherent weakness, I'm not very musical.

A person's ability to physically hear some sound differences changes after babyhood, I don't remember, perhaps 2 years old... but I did read somewhere that the ear can be retrained even when older, it just takes some specific drills. And then, it is documented that the ability to hear certain frequencies declines with age. They say that only teenagers can hear high pitched sounds, so they can set up machines that generate those sounds and keep teenagers from hanging around certain places.

My learning of Spanish is not really comparable since I did learn it pretty well a long time ago. Given Anki and online grammar drills, and the determination and focus I have now; I'm finding it much easier and faster to learn much more vocabulary and grammar than I ever knew; it's much easier now than it was then. I have a good memory in general, and lately I have noticed a decline in my ability to remember things like the names of restaurants that I don't go to very often or 70s rock bands... I kind of think I'm pushing in so much new stuff into my head so fast, that it's pushing other things out.
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Re: The older you get the harder it gets.

Postby Kraut » Sat Jan 11, 2020 11:19 pm

El aprendizaje de idiomas en adultos, un reto posible

I found this in the UNED mediateca

https://canal.uned.es/video/5a6f15e1b1111fe0688b456a


Lingüística Pedagogía
01/05/2017

Hasta la década de 1990, en general se decía que solo los niños podían aprender un segundo idioma al nivel de un hablante nativo. La teoría argumentaba que los niños son más receptivos a nuevos aprendizajes y en especial al aprendizaje de idiomas. Lo cual tenía mucho sentido: los niños necesitan aprender el idioma para integrarse en la sociedad y, por lo tanto, también resulta más fácil para ellos aprender un segundo idioma. Pero cuando los lingüistas empezaron a analizar los datos, encontraron que la situación no era tan clara como se creía. Hoy en día, las investigaciones sugieren que si bien los estudiantes más jóvenes tienen ciertas ventajas cuando aprenden un idioma, la experiencia de vida o madurez de los adultos les da algunas herramientas y técnicas que los niños no tienen como descubriremos en este el programa.

Until the 1990s, it was generally said that only children could learn a second language at the level of a native speaker. The theory argued that children are more receptive to new learning and especially to language learning. This made a lot of sense: children need to learn the language in order to integrate into society and therefore it is also easier for them to learn a second language. But when linguists started to analyse the data, they found that the situation was not as clear-cut as believed. Today, research suggests that while younger students have certain advantages when learning a language, the life experience or maturity of adults gives them some tools and techniques that children do not have as we will discover in this program.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)


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