Is it too late?

I have been asked (and am still asked) whether or not one is too “old” to learn a language, or whether it’s “too late” to start learning a language or, more optimistically, whether it will be harder or more challenging to learn a language.

The simple answers are no, you’re not too old and it’s not too late.  Quite frankly, it’s one (of many) beliefs that simply prevent you, whatever your age may be, from making the effort to acquire a new skill.

Mary Schleppegrall, in her book “The Older Language Learner”, states explicitly than in all her research, she found “no decline in ability to learn as people get older”. Motivation and self-confidence – not age – are much bigger issues when it comes to learning a new language.  Studies show that while younger learners may have an easier time acquiring long-term fluency, older learners actually pick up languages more quickly early on.  All this means is that, as an older learner, you’ll have to work harder in the later stages.  This, again, requires motivation and self-confidence.

This myth about age stemmed from an old, now debunked, hypothesis that people lost “neuroplasticity” as they grew older and there was a “critical period” in which you had to learn something in order to master it.  The truth is, as long as you are keeping your brain healthy and active, you can learn new things.  In fact, your brain can increase its plasticity even as you age.

There are even reasons why, as an older learner, you have advantages over younger learners:

1. Your ability to understand grammar and sentence structure has increased.

2. You have a better ability for abstract reasoning, enabling you to creatively utilize new grammar and patterns better.

3. Your long-term memory is better, enabling you to memorize and put together more pieces than a younger learner (albeit more slowly).

So why do older people seem to have problems with language acquisition, while it seems children don’t?  Simple: children aren’t afraid of making mistakes.  They are motivated, and they are self-confident.  This is the central key to being a good language learner: enjoy the process. Make mistakes!  Have fun with it!

Also, younger people tend to learn faster.  This doesn’t mean older learners’ memories and learning abilities decrease.  The only thing that decreases is the speed at which you reproduce what you already know, and it only decreases at the rate of about 1% per year.

This topic will be continued in two weeks, so please check back!

Here are some links to more information (in English):
In Japanese:

外国語を取得するには「年齢が高すぎ」ではないでしょうか? 語学を勉強し始めるには「遅すぎ」ませんか? まだ間に合うとしても、この年で外国語を勉強するのは難しくて大変ですよね? 昔からよく聞かれる質問です。


メアリー・シュレップグラルは著書の「The Older Language Learner(高年齢者の学習)」で、「年齢を重ねても学習能力に低下は見られない」という研究結果をはっきりと述べています。新しい外国語を習得するときに問題になるのは「やる気と覚悟」であって、年齢ではないのです。ただ、学習初期には高年齢者の方が外国語を取得するスピードが速いけれども、学習後期では若年齢者の方が流暢に外国語を操ることができるようになりやすい、という調査結果も指摘されています。 つまり、年を取ると、後半戦に入ってから一層努力をしなければならないのです。この場合も必要になるのは「やる気と覚悟」です。



1. 文法や文章構造を理解する能力が高い。
2. 抽象的な理論をよく理解することができ、新しい文法や構文を工夫して使用することができる。
3. 長期記憶に強いので、若い人よりも多くの情報を記憶しておいて(彼らよりも時間はかかりますが)組み立てることができる。
では、若い人の方が簡単に外国語を取得できるように思えるのは何故でしょうか? 端的に言うと、子供は間違うことを恐れないからです。子供にはやる気があり、覚悟もあるからです。語学を学ぶために一番大切なのは、学習する過程を楽しむことなのです。ミスすることを恐れず、楽しく勉強しましょう!

若い人は学ぶのが早いという傾向はみられますが、これは年を取ると記憶力や学習能力が落ちるという意味ではありません。落ちるのは、既に知っていることを思い出すためのスピードです。 しかし、このスピードも1年に1%ずつ減少するだけです。




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