The age factor: never too old to learn a new language!
So, if you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know of my interest in German. I have been fascinated by the idea of learning it for years when I was a teenager, then at University I felt the urgency of picking it as second language, in a very “who says I can’t learn that” kind of way.
German is tough if you don’t pay attention to it a hundred per cent. Age, however, plays a big part in the learning process. It is said that after a certain age the efforts are tougher and tougher. New vocabulary never sticks to your mind, then come other problems, a thousand things to do, and learning a language as a hobby is just too demotivating for some.
I have been teaching English at a private school, where most students were over 40, 50, 60. I can tell the main problem was that of confidence, a part from the limits one has because of the age.
I think I’m still quite flexible in learning a new language, but I know that as time goes by, I’m going to eventually find the same problem. So, here are my own self-imposed kind of generic tips to learning a foreign language in your adult years. Some basic rules which, I think, could be useful to others too:
- Let the new foreign language into your life gradually. You don’t want to impose something on yourself to which you are not completely ready and you acknowledge that. Grow the need of learning more about it, by surrounding yourself with it. How? Websites, short sentences (quotes might be useful), reading should probably be your first and major approach, listening must be introduced gradually.
- Get a high-school book which takes you into the culture of the foreign place whose language you’re studying. Accompany that with a grammar book, but once again let the language in gradually. Do not watch movies or tv-series in that language until you’re familiar with the main structures of sentences, grammar, etc… Same with books. You would spend most time checking words in the dictionary and would only obtain a counter-effect.
- When you’re ready, do watch films, listen to the radio, or read books. But use it yourself too! Write to someone in that language, find a penpal or an exchange partner who will help you in exchange of the same help in learning your native language. Experiment! Write short sentences, attempt at communication. Language is not only a passive means: you understand what others say, but you can say something too!
- Don’t be afraid of mistakes. I know every mistake could make you think “Oops, I knew it. I’m not made for this. I’m too old“. It is not true. You’d be amazed to see how many young people are just as much, if not more, demotivated by making mistakes. All you need is confidence. And I can tell you, every bit helps.
- Motivate yourself. As confidence is usually the powerforce of learning a new language, use that foreign language to increase your knowledge. Do I like soccer? Well, let’s read newspapers in German and see what German soccer teams are up to! Or, do I like books? I sure want to know what’s new in Literature in Germany. Perhaps some future worldwide bestseller which hasn’t been translated into English just yet! See?
Yes, it is true that when you’re older you are less flexible, therefore you are less open to change in communication. But that should not be an excuse, because it’s one thing to have a clear mind on what one’s limit are and try and act in order to jump the hurdle, and it’s another to just claim to have a hurdle and sit down without even trying to jump. Believe in yourself!