Published : Mar 22, 2018

You’re Never Too Old To Learn a Language

Much has been written and said about how it’s so much easier for children to learn a new language than for older adults. But how old is too old?


It may be more natural for children to learn a second language, and generally pronunciation comes easier, but new research indicates that, absent the impact of a chronic disease, older adults may learn a language just as easily.

A U.S. Department of Education study concluded there is no decline in a person’s learning ability as they age.

The mind never retires. It’s thought that learning a second language actually helps develop neural transmitters in the brain, even in the elderly. It’s well documented that mentally challenging activities, such as language learning, helps keep the brain flexible, and delays or prevents such deteriorative conditions as dementia.

In addition, older adults have already learned one language. Words and patterns in many second languages may be similar to those in their native tongues. Previous knowledge and experience and associations can help adults relate new words and phrases to their everyday lives.

Some approaches that help improve language learning for older adults:

  • Focus on interests; if someone is interested in history, focus language learning on material about history, not some esoteric topic
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up; older learners are sometimes reticent to speak their new language from fear of being embarrassed

One suggestion to overcome this: read a few pages into a voice recorder and then play it back. Record it again, and play it back again. Doing this often enough will dramatically improve your pronunciation, make you more comfortable with your own voice, and give you confidence.

Watching television will also help your pronunciation. Most cable systems have some foreign-language stations.

For almost everyone, understanding comes before speaking.

Relate learning to your own experiences

Incorporate real-life experiences into your language learning. It’s interesting, and more fun, to include something that happened to you or that you deal with every day than talk about some hypothetical situation.

Language learning at any age is a plus for everyone.

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