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Is it really easier to learn a language as a child?

How adult professionals can learn languages faster

 

“Learn a language while you are young, it’s easier than doing it when you are older.” This is one of the most common pieces of advice we hear when it comes to learning a language. How useful is it though?

There are certain aspects of language learning that come more easily to a younger learner. The ability to naturally acquire the same accent as a native speaker, for example, is said to decrease every year after the onset of puberty due to physical changes in the brain. This means that adult learners often need to make the most of different learning strategies as opposed to children in order to be successful.

Another factor is simply time. Children have more time to devote to learning – it’s a full-time job for them throughout their school years. Not many adults have the luxury for dedicating that amount of time to their own learning and, as they progress in their careers, they have even less time as they take on more responsibility.

The final factor that makes it seem like young people can learn faster is their lack of fear. Young people tend to be more open to learning in new ways and find it easier to overcome their fear of making mistakes. Making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process and is what helps people to explore new areas of a language in order to become more fluent and express themselves more effectively. The fear of making mistakes is what often causes adult learners to reach an intermediate level in a language then get stuck in a rut, making no further progress.

So, with all these obstacles to overcome, how is it that adult learners can actually learn a language as quickly and effectively as children? By taking advantage of their own strengths.

Firstly, adult learners tend to have clearer motivation for learning. Whether it’s the chance to get a better job or pay rise, travel the world or simply for a hobby, clear motivation makes it easier for adult learners to set goals and reach them faster.

Another advantage for adult learners is having an effective learning strategy. If you know what kind of learner you are and have had the time to try out several different learning methods, it’s easier to know what kind of learning strategy help you learn faster.

For business English learners, subject matter knowledge is an important factor. Younger learners wanting to learn business English often suffer from the simple problem that, while they can speak English, they don’t have the background knowledge to really understand what the new vocabulary means. The background knowledge that older learners have puts them at a real advantage when it comes to learning English for a specific purpose.

While it’s not possible for adult learners to rewire their brains to acquire a language in the same way as a child, it is possible to give them some of the same other advantages that children have. Making learning more efficient using productivity techniques can make up for the extra time children have to study by trying to overcome the fear of making mistakes as well as by introducing an element of ‘play’ into the learning. Whether through rewarding yourself for reaching goals or introducing the element of competition into your learning activities, this can help you harness the power of the young mind for your own learning.

With all these advantages, it becomes clear that being an adult is not a disadvantage when learning a language. In fact, it’s a distinct advantage in many ways and one that, if used effectively, can help you reach your English-learning goals.

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