Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

General discussion about learning languages
Tom Busch
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Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby Tom Busch » Mon Nov 16, 2020 5:22 am

I'm aware of people like Steve Kauffman who are older and able to learn new languages, but it's different when you are doing it for the first time. I started learning my first foreign language three years ago at age 52. I was under the impression that age would make it harder but not impossible to learn a language, but at various times since then, I've read comments that have been discouraging. I've made some progress, but I thought I'd be much further along at this point. I feel like if I keeping going for a few more years, I will get it eventually, but there's no way to know for sure. I know there are exceptions where older people were able to learn a language, but general speaking is it really too late for the average person to start in their 50's?
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby Dragon27 » Mon Nov 16, 2020 12:51 pm

Tom Busch wrote:I'm aware of people like Steve Kauffman who are older and able to learn new languages, but it's different when you are doing it for the first time.

There's also Stephen Krashen, who called himself "a late beginner".

Tom Busch wrote:I was under the impression that age would make it harder but not impossible to learn a language
I've made some progress, but I thought I'd be much further along at this point.

But you did make some progress. That means it's possible. You said it yourself "harder but not impossible".
With some happy exceptions, everyone feels like they're not progressing fast enough, irrespective of their age. Expectations lead to disappointment. Achieving anything is a constant psychological battle against yourself.

Or maybe you're just doing it wrong.

I feel like if I keeping going for a few more years, I will get it eventually, but there's no way to know for sure. I know there are exceptions where older people were able to learn a language, but general speaking is it really too late for the average person to start in their 50's?

Of course it isn't.

Here's a quote by Krashen.
About six years ago I met a woman in Hungary named Lomb Kato, a professional translator who had acquired 17 languages. At the time we met she was 86. Her last words to me changed my life: "Stephen, you are so young. So many years left, so many languages to acquire!" (I was 54 at the time.) What an inspiration! Since then I have plunged back into second language acquisition.

Keep that quote in mind: "You are so young. So many years left, so many languages to acquire!"
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby tungemål » Mon Nov 16, 2020 2:37 pm

I am absolutely certain that you can learn a language in older age. I haven't got too many years untill I'm 52 and I hope I'll still be young and able to learn new things by then.

I imagine you are right that if you never studied languages before, then it will be harder. But it will probably also depend on whether you are used to studying and learning in general. I think learning new things will keep the mind young. Researchers have found that speaking two or more languages delays Alzheimers disease by several years, and there are all sort of cognitive benefits from studying language so this is a hobby that is valuable if only because of that.

I've made some progress, but I thought I'd be much further along at this point.

The same thoughts that I have. This takes more time than one would think, but I do make enough progress to notice it.

I feel like if I keeping going for a few more years, I will get it eventually, but there's no way to know for sure.

In a way you will never get there, as you can always become better in a language and your second language will never be as good as your native language even if you study for 20 years. (exceptions are extremely talented people who start very young). You can get to a point where you are functional and can participate effortlessly in conversations and read books, a level that is around B2, and that's my goal for Spanish.
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby tangleweeds » Mon Nov 16, 2020 6:43 pm

Tom Busch wrote:I've made some progress, but I thought I'd be much further along at this point.

Do keep in mind that every new learner thinks this! Normal people take much longer to learn languages than people selling books or making monetized youtube videos... odd, that. :lol:
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby Lawyer&Mom » Tue Nov 17, 2020 12:47 am

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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby rdearman » Tue Nov 17, 2020 1:15 am

Met a fellow at a polyglot gathering who has started learning a new language every year, some he continues to fluency, some he just drops after the year. He has been doing this since he was 10 years old. He is 70+ now. Which reminds me, I need to ask him what language he is going to do in 2021.

Edit: 2021 is Sanskrit.
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby Lamonte » Tue Nov 17, 2020 5:19 am

Last year I attended an informal Hebrew class. At first, it had a mix of old and young. Everyone expressed a desire and had motivation to learn. Over time however, the young ones dropped out while the older ones were more consistent. Toward the end, I felt like I was the young pup in the class at 58.
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby s_allard » Tue Nov 17, 2020 6:47 am

The simple answer is NO. One is never too old to start learning a language. Remember the key word here is "start". And above all you have to think about what your goals are. If you are extremely motivated and want to pass the C2 exam or equivalent in the target language, then you are in for a long haul. On the other hand, you may want just a casual knowledge to allow you to enjoy the culture and feel more comfortable in the country when travelling. Or maybe you just like the sounds of the language - my case with Russian - and you just like the challenge of learning something new. In these latter cases learning a language is basically a fun trip that can be quite challenging. All I can say is: Just go for it.

Edit: corrected what to want
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby CardiffGiant » Tue Nov 17, 2020 6:51 pm

I would suggest that you look at this a bit differently. You have choices of how you spend your time every day and you have to assess why you are learning a language in the first place. Are you enjoying the process? If you are not, then maybe you need to reassess how you learning(That is not to say that the process will be enjoyable every minute but on balance the question is do you get enjoyment during the process).
Are you focused on a larger goal that creates unreasonable expectations no matter the age? Maybe you need to reset expectations into shorter term goals that are measurable and achievable?

Instead of focusing on your age. Focus on why you are learning a language, how you are doing it, and whether you believe it to be a rewarding experience in your every day life.That may help you to answer your own question.
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby SCMT » Tue Nov 17, 2020 7:43 pm

Tom Busch wrote: is it really too late for the average person to start in their 50's?


Yes. You should do it anyway.
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