Think You’re Too Old to Learn a New Language?

Think You’re Too Old to Learn a New Language? Think again.

Before you start thinking about how lousy you did in school in Spanish, French, German, or any other language, and deduce that you “just have no talent” for languages, or that your “brain is too old to take in new information”, let me try to prove you wrong. Bare with me.

From my personal experience with language learning in school, I’d say I did well. I got good grades, even got an citywide award for “Excellence in Spanish”. But let me tell you, I knew the language on paper but couldn’t hold a conversation with anybody. And that after 4 years!

After having the opportunity to travel the world a little, I’ve been able to learn some basic Travel French, Travel Italian, and eventually become fluent in German. I’ve realised that school is one of the worst places to learn a language! You merely learn the language academically, and you don’t really learn what you need to know if you’re planning on travelling or flirting with your foreign-language-speaking neighbor or co-worker.

How did you learn your mother tongue? By studying vocabulary, grammar, using flash cards and taking tests? No? Me neither. Whew, I thought I was the only one. 🙂 All kidding aside, you learned your language by hearing it all around you. And since you were a very interested kid and everybody was interested in you, you wanted to get in on all the fun. So, you started mimicking your mother, your father, your friends, etc. You wanted to be able to do what everybody else was doing… Communicating!

What’s your motivation?

Why do you or did you want to learn a new language? For a job promotion? For your resume? For your intellect? Those are all fine reasons, but not enough. What is the primary purpose of a language? You got it. Communicating with other human beings! In my opinion, this has to be the main motivator when learning a language! You have to gain an affinity (if you haven’t already) for the language you want to learn. You have to at least LIKE it, if not LOVE it! Now I referred to my language learning connected to my travel experiences. Yes, I was able to learn at least some of a language by actually being in the country for a period time. Tied in with that, it was a new world for me and I wanted to gobble up the experiences as much as possible. I was highly motivated to learn to communicate (and to flirt with the receptionists at the hotels). 😉 But no, I don’t believe that you HAVE to be in that country in order to learn that language.

How much do you have to know?

How well do you want to learn your target language? Enough for vacation in 2 weeks? Enough for idle conversation? Fluently because you’re moving to another country because of a job, education, retirement or adventure? Each goal has a different level of mastery required. But, don’t get nervous! Each language in everyday use consists of about only 200 words. Used with basic grammar, you’re unstoppable!

Vocabulary and Grammar?

Although having a vocabulary is very helpful and knowing the basics of grammar will at least insure that you don’t sound like a complete idiot, you can’t get so hung up on them. At least not so much that you don’t speak out of fear of saying something incorrectly. People are nice. People are actually supportive of another. They help you by correcting you or just letting you speak, providing they understand what it is that you want.

What’s the best method?

I started out with just basic “See and Say” books. I watched local television. I went to the cinema when time allowed. I first saw the movie “Terminator” in German (wasn’t hard. mostly action). I later saw the film “Amadeus” in Italian ( a little more difficult, but very entertaining).

It’s been said that immersion is the best way to learn a new language. When you’re in the country, you’ve got that basically covered as long as you go out in the streets and communicate! If you’re not in the country of your target language, there are MeetUp groups, bookstores, film and audio sections at the local library, Online Language Learning via websites or Skype.

Everyone learns differently and has different interests and motivations. I think the best is to use a multiplicity of sources. Film, audio, comic books, newspapers, magazines, podcasts, practice speaking out loud in front of the mirror, labelling everything in your home with words and phrases, whatever works for you! Just be sure to make a connection to another human being. You’ll learn nuances about a language you’ll never learn out of a book.

Again, too old?

Emphatically no! As long as you have a healthy nervous system you can learn anything! Your motivation, the time you spend practicing, and have a clear idea about how well do you want to speak another language. Keep track of your learning in a journal. Write down what you’ve learned, what happened that day, what links to your own language did you discover, etc. Regular review of your journal will keep you motivated and improve your focus.

Starve the Fear, Feed the Passion!

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