It’s Never Too Late!

Smiling man, older, blue shirtYou’ve likely heard about the research that shows that the best time to learn a second language is when you’re child. That’s fantastic news if you’ve been working hard to raise your children in a bilingual environment since birth. But if you’re over the age of 12 and wanting to learn a language, are you a lost cause? Should you resign yourself to a life of monolingualism? The answer, of course, is no.

It’s time to stop agonizing

Adult language learners often worry that they’ve waited too long to learn a new language, or if they do decide to pick up a new language, they stress over all the time they think they’ve lost. But a recently conducted study shows that it’s time to stop agonizing. The research of Dr. Thomas Bak from the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh illustrates that the benefits of bilingualism are available to everyone, no matter their age.

This longitudinal study tested 843 participants, once in 1947 as children, and again in 2008–2010 as elderly adults. Some of the test subjects were lifelong monolinguals, some had learned a second language during childhood, and some learned a second language in adulthood. Both the participants who learned a second language in childhood and those who learned a second language in adulthood scored higher on cognitive tests, especially in intelligence and reading, than their monolingual counterparts. There was no significant difference in cognitive ability between the two bilingual groups, despite the fact that their language study began at different stages of life.

Great news, right?

If you’re able to pick up a second language as an adult, you’re essentially on a level playing field, cognitively speaking, with those who learned it as a child. You have all of the same benefits: delayed onset of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, improved problem-solving skills, ability to ignore distractions, etc. But what about the assertion that learning a second language is simply more difficult the older you get? While it’s true that age significantly affects the facility with which you learn a new language, other research shows that because adult language learners are already fully literate in their native language, vocabulary and grammar can actually be easier for them to learn. There is also the issue of motivation; adult language learners are often more motivated than children and thus obtain better results.

The bottom line?

It’s never too late to learn a language. So, what language would you like to learn? What’s your motivation? What’s holding you back?


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