Is there an age limit for learning another language?
We have heard countless times that to learn another language you have to begin as a child, because you know, these little monsters are like sponges. It seems that their brains have something called neuroplasticity, that is, they have a great capacity to create and alter their neural connections when adapting to new experiences. This makes it easier for kids to learn and acquire knowledge.
It should be pointed out that we adults also have that capacity, but with age our brain loses flexibility and that is why it is said that it is more difficult for us to learn new things.
But is that really so?
When we talk about learning to speak another language we must take into account two concepts: "Acquisition" and "learning".
We acquire another language when we are not conscious that we are learning it and it is a non-intentional action. This is how we learn our mother tongue when we are children, we listen to how people around us speak and then we imitate them.
We learn another language when we do it intentionally and we are conscious of what we are learning.
With these two concepts in mind, the ideal and therefore most effective way to speak another language fluently would be a combination of the two. In fact, according to the experts on this subject, a person does not master their mother tongue until they are around 30. This is because we add on what we have unconsciously acquired between the ages of 2 and 13 or so, to what we have learnt later through the study of grammatical rules and through our own personal experience.
Having said that, we can say, although it is recommended to learn a second language as a child, learning it as an adult also has its advantages.
Advantages of learning a language as an adult.
1. Sense of purpose. When an adult learns a language they do so for personal motivation, that is, perhaps they need it for work, or because they are going to study or live in another country. That motivation makes them devote time and effort to achieve their goal. They will take advantage of what they have at their disposal to achieve it: they will look for a course, read books or watch movies in that language in order to learn it.
2. They have a richer vocabulary and more ability to understand both concrete and abstract concepts, which also allows them to have a wider range of vocabulary in another language. In addition, they understand the functioning and structure of sentences, which helps them understand the grammatical part of the other language much better.
3. They have a lot of accumulated experience and more skills in solving problems during their daily lives, which makes it easier for them to process new information.
4. Their ability to concentrate is greater and they have more self-discipline than children.
5. They are faster at "learning" a language than children because their learning is conscious and intentional. They are better at memorizing words, understanding concepts, understanding and performing exercises because their brain is more mature.
What is our goal, perfection or communication?
When we decide to learn another language as adults, we probably don't think about being able to speak like the natives, because what we want is simply to communicate. Later on, as we move forward on our way to achieving it, we realize that it is very difficult to master another language, or in other words, to be bilingual. It takes a lot of time, especially when we don't live in an environment where that language is spoken and therefore our exposure to it is limited.
Even though it is true that children acquire another language more easily than adults, it must also be said that if they are not immersed in that language, listening continuously to native people, they will not be able to speak it fluently either.
If we take the issue of immigration as an example, a child will learn before an adult to speak the language of the destination country because they will hear it at school, their friends will speak to them in that language, they will watch television in that language and because of vital needs they will need to learn it as quickly as possible. Here, the great plasticity of their brain gives them a greater advantage over adults.
From this, we can deduce that we can learn another language at any age and that, depending on whether we only want to communicate or master the language, we will devote more or less time and resources to it.
Today, thanks to new technologies, it is easier to learn another language. In a society where we are busy most of the day, finding a moment to learn another language is sometimes difficult and our computers and mobiles can be a very useful tool to make the most of our time.
So, to those who think they are too old to learn another language, tell them that it is never too late. With enthusiasm, effort and dedication everything can be achieved.