Why Adults are Better Language Learners than Children
Adults often mention the misconception that language learning is easier for children and
younger adults than it is for more mature individuals. The logic probably flows from the
idea that (1) because children at a very young age learn a language almost by osmosis,
that (2) it is best to learn a language when you are very young.
It is a great idea and we are fascinated when children speak their first words and
the miracle feeling that comes from the magical progression, but this concept is a myth.
Adults can learn languages easier than children. There I said it. Think of the facts.
Children spend how many years learning to talk like a five-year old?
How long will it take it take an adult to learn the same level of proficiency in a language?
Fortunately for adults, the answer is that they will learn it a lot quicker and can learn to
speak at a much higher level.
The reasons are obvious and varied:
Adults have more experiences to tie new concepts into. Many adults have already
started to learn a language once and have been sidetracked by life. They are able to
relate to the concepts and structure of a new language, to relate pieces of it to something
else that they have learned, and think of why it works.
Adults are more focused on what they learn. Not that they focus better, but they
are learning fewer things. They are not learning six widely-different topics
(algebra, biology, English, accounting, music and Spanish) at once so if they focus
on learning one or two new things they can manage better than school age kids who
are inundated with multiple learning challenges.
Adults understand the importance of self-improvement, are self-motivated. Adults
will learn if they have a compelling reason to learn, and they will learn what they want to
learn. It is their choice and their decision and they really want to learn.
Many adults have traveled to foreign countries and been exposed to life where
English is not common and realize how much a language can be useful.
They have met people from different cultures and been exposed to fascinating foods,
drinks, words and cultures. They know there is more to life than English and want to
Adults know how to juggle things and persevere. Adults have the patience and
longer-term attention spans to stick with learning a language. It is not a short,
all-consuming, intensive sprint but a process that rewards the patient and those that
Adults have developed logic. They know how to ask the right questions and learn
the formula for speaking a language the right way, with the right verb tenses,
nouns, pronouns, etc.
There are many reasons that learning a language may not be on your short-term
of self-improvement projects. However, that is not because you cannot learn a
language because you are older or past your prime learning age. Adults are clearly
better at learning a language; it just needs to be something you want to do.