Why there’s no reason older people can’t learn a new language

October 16, 2014 by Alison Tunley

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Learning a new language can do wonders for your brain – regardless of age.


‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, or so the saying goes.


However, this might be true for certain aspects of life (who wants to learn how to ‘freerun’ any way?), it’s certainly not the case for language.


You might have heard in the past that children are in the best position out of all of us to pick up a new tongue, and that as we get older, this task becomes increasingly tough.


This has even been used in the past as a case for why we should start teaching foreign languages in all primary schools in the UK, rather than only making them mandatory when a youngster gets to the secondary school level of their education.


That said, it certainly isn’t impossible to learn a completely new language later on in life. In fact, there are some people who say this more experienced outlook can actually prove to be beneficial when it comes to taking on the more advanced linguistic forms of a new tongue.


Why learning a language is easier when you’re older


It’s only natural that the longer you live, the bigger your vocabulary gets. “So what?,” we hear you cry: “That doesn’t make a difference to a new language I’d be learning from scratch.”


Wrong – and on so many levels. First of all, there’s a significant probability that you won’t be starting ‘from scratch’. Numerous invasions and other events throughout history have seen the English language influenced by a range of tongues – so as a result, there is a long list of common words that you are likely to recognise in other languages to help you on your way.


“Older people have larger vocabularies than younger ones, so the chances are your vocabulary will be as large as a native,” professor Albert Costa from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona told the Guardian. As a result, this type of person generally finds it easier to learn the word-for-word equivalent in the new language, although the rules of grammar or syntax can sometimes be slightly more challenging.


Secondly, learning a new language at a more advanced stage in life can be easier because the way you pick up this new skill can be tailored specifically towards your learning style. One of the common mistakes that many people make is trying to learn a new language in the same way a baby does – but you’re not a baby, so why act like one? Instead of the standardised approach to learning a new tongue, you can adapt it to suit whichever way you feel works best, from verbally repeating phrases to writing them down or incorporating diagrams.


The advantages of learning a new language


We’ve previously written about how learning a new language can protect the brain against the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s – and as far as the research is concerned, this is certainly true.


If you’re looking for a challenge to keep your brain engaged and well-exercised, then embracing a new language is an effective way of achieving this.


Aside from the health benefits, there are many other reasons why you should consider taking the time to expand your language skills.


Employability is an obvious one, while simply doing it to broaden your horizons and expand your knowledge of other cultures is another.


Regardless of your motives, if you’ve ever dreamed of learning a new language but have been put off by the notion you’re too old, you’re wrong. Why not give it a go? You may surprise yourself.


However, this won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, you can always rely on Rosetta Translation for your linguistic needs.


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