We all know that language learning ability deteriorates with age.
Early language learning is ideal, as we’ve discussed in past posts, because of the plasticity of the brain in infancy.
A baby’s brain maps out language with greater ease, making it more effortless and pliable in these early stages of life.
Old brains are generally more stubborn and rigid.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to learn a foreign language, even with age.
Let’s take a look at a couple studies that show how we might help our old brains learn.
First Rule of Older-Aged Language Learning: Don’t Be a Stickler for Rules
The best way to learn a foreign language as an older person is NOT to be a stickler for rules.
Grammar and punctuation should take a backseat to communication.
This is largely because as an older person, you’ve long passed your peak language learning abilities and shouldn’t expect to achieve native fluency.
This level of fluency actually ends as early as 10 years old, according to an MIT study.
Boston College Assistant Professor of Psychology Joshua Hartshorne, who conducted the study, explained:
“We don’t see very much difference [in native-like knowledge of English grammar] between people who start at birth and people who start at 10, but we start seeing a decline after that.”
However, the study also found that adolescents remain skilled at learning grammar up to the age of 17 or 18.
After passing this critical period, your focus should be placed on “accomplishing something” rather than on rules.
Leave Perfectionism Behind
Many older language learners focus on the wrong things when learning a language, which can easily make one frustrated.
Lycoming College Assistant Professor Andrew Stafford advises that his French students focus more on a hands-on approach to language learning, rather than on grammar.
In an article by Albert McKeon in NOW, Stafford is quoted as saying:
“In the end, language is used for communication. Whether it’s perfect pronunciation or grammar, if you get your meaning across, you’ve accomplished your goal.”
Considering the plasticity of your old brain, communication should be the ultimate goal of learning a language.
So, leave your perfectionism behind, and have fun with it!