Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

General discussion about learning languages
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby smallwhite » Mon Feb 22, 2021 8:18 am

> but there's no way to know for sure. I know there are exceptions where older people were able to learn a language, but [...]

Success stories are inactivated in OP.
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby lusan » Mon Feb 22, 2021 4:10 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. 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?

Are you serious? I am 66. I began Polish at 60, French at 63, and just 2 months ago Italian. No problem at all. It is a lot of work. If you really want it, you can do it.

Why those languages?

Polish - Family need. DONE.
French - Edit Piaf and French Culture. Watch movies, read books, and news - DONE
Italian - The Sound!!! So beautiful.... ON THE WAY.

I might even one day learn some Japanese, and watch Toshiro Mifune's films.

Age is not an issue, but time, desire and well defined goals. Anyone can do it.

Of course, be very careful choosing a method: Define objective, get the basic grammar and vocabulary and then jump IN!
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby Beli Tsar » Mon Feb 22, 2021 4:47 pm

Not quite old enough to be able to offer direct evidence, but learning languages in near midlife is proving a lot easier than it was in my early twenties. I'm sure I was sharper then, had better memory, far more time, and better health. The trouble was I was also an idiot.

I've learned a lot since then; still probably an idiot (just ask me in ten years) but I've learned a lot about how to learn since, and more importantly, how to set realistic goals and keep going at them little by little. That's making the difference between total failiure and (admittedly slow and limited!) success.

I daresay at 52 you've learned that lesson better than I.
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby lowsocks » Tue Feb 23, 2021 2:08 am

This Guardian article does not mention language learning, but the stories may still give you some inspiration: ... -achievers
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby Lisa » Tue Feb 23, 2021 3:37 am

I'm going to say no, not too old for most people to learn some languages to some level of fluency; but too old for some other languages to some other levels of fluency for most people . "learn" is not a precise target, and different people vary a lot in their ability to learn a language. I know some people on this forum have natural abilities that are far beyond me! But an English speaker learning Spanish to B2 level, for example, I'd say is totally doable.

At these kinds of ages (I'm older than you), I probably can't get east/southest asian languages to a point that wasn't broken-sounding (I haven't tried, and partly my estimation is on the inverse, how hard it is for average chinese and vietnamese to speak flowing english). But I'd be confident in learning French, Italian, or Malay to where I could communicate well... if I worked hard. But I don't think could avoid having a strong accent, and probably I'd have mistakes I'd never fully fix. That doesn't matter to me, I have friends whose english is fast but not very correct and I'd be happy to speak my languages at that level.

Of course for actual children it's a different story, but once you are in your 20s you face pretty much the same second-language-acquistion brain circuits, as far as I know; there are a lot of other age-related factors that are making the difference in acquisition. One big advantage of being young is you mind less looking silly -- it was easy to try out my poor language skills when I was the young cousin, while now I might be embarrassed to make stupid mistakes. And I could sit and listen to my old aunts go on and on and on with fairly good focus even if I only understood half of it, and I'm not sure if I could do that now.
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby Language patzer » Tue Feb 23, 2021 8:37 am


Besides, since when is 52 old at all :?
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby Doodah » Tue Feb 23, 2021 3:09 pm

The best time to start learning may well be after retirement, because you have all the time in the world, and none of the daily grind / stress / drama.
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Re: Is 52 too old to start learning languages?

Postby lingua » Tue Feb 23, 2021 7:54 pm

I don't think age is an obstacle at all at least until one reaches some stage of dementia.

I started Italian in my 40s and all other languages in my 50s. The only difference I see between attempting languages then vs now is that my retention for vocabulary was easier in my younger days but I'm much more disciplined with studying in my middle years. I also have more patience and have a better understanding of what it takes to get to at least an intermediate stage. Younger me was more interested in socializing than spending hours studying. Now I am more balanced with how I spend my time ... or at least I was pre-Covid.
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