Age Factor in Language Learning

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Welcome to the seventh lesson of our "Why Can't I Speak English" course, Age Factor in Language Learning! In this lesson, we will cover the following topics:

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Age Factor in Language Learning

In the second section of our “Why Can’t I Speak English?” video lesson series, we'll talk about what I've heard most during my teaching career which causes people to give up on learning English called “Language Learning Myths”. Please note, all the topics in this section are myths and excuses. I will bust all these myths for you.

What's the Best Age For Learning a Language
What's the Best Age For Learning a Language

I teach English for a wide range of ages. The age range of my students is usually 8 to 10-year-old primary school students and 30 to 50-year-old company employees. At one point, this age range widened further and I had students who were both 1 year old and 85 years old. I'm not kidding, I've met people from quite a variety of profiles. But the common questions they all asked were "what age is best to learn English" and "am I too old to learn a new language?"

Wilder Graves Penfield and Lamar Roberts
Wilder Graves Penfield and Lamar Roberts
Eric Lenneberg
Eric Lenneberg

In all cultures around the world, there is a saying that "everything is beautiful at its age" and it is indisputable. But if you think your life is over because of this saying and it is too late for new things, you are wrong. According to the hundreds of studies conducted by many scientists and linguists over the years, it has been determined that the most critical age range for learning a new language is from the age of 5 to adolescence - in short, to the age of 18. This hypothesis is a research conducted by two neurologists, doctors who examine and treat the human brain, named Wilder Penfield and Lamar Roberts - in 1959 and popularized in 1967 by Linguist Eric Lenneberg, a more than 60 years old research.

Learning Languages at a Young Age

The reason why this age range is critical is a very interesting finding. In this age range, our brains are still trying to mature and have not finalized, so all kinds of different inputs, no matter how complex, are better organized by the brain. That is to say, grammatical theories and cultural perceptions that are very contrary to our native language are more easily digested by our minds and can be made a part of itself in this age range. For example, when phonology, which is the physical side of learning English, is taught at an early age, the rate of mechanical errors in pronunciation is much less.

How do people create speech sounds?
How do people create speech sounds?

This is because we physically use different muscle types to produce sound. Every day, we speak our mother tongue using the "Places of Articulation" and "Manners of Articulation" that we have been accustomed to from childhood. Each language has its unique sounds, and of course, there are common sounds between different languages. But it will be more difficult to produce some sounds in English that are not in our mother tongue that we will learn when we are older. For one, we will have to put our tongue in a position and shape that we have never positioned before. Let's not forget that our tongue is also a muscle. It will always be easier for us to strengthen these muscles at an early age. Our brain and muscles will be able to adapt to this change more easily.

The Brain of Adults and Children Work Differently

So, just because we’re past our 20’s or 30’s, is it too late? Of course not. If there is a saying "everything is beautiful at its age", we also have a saying "every age has its beauty", right? People aged 30 and above have two great advantages that distinguish them from people who have not reached puberty. These are life experiences that cover different topics and the vocabulary they have accumulated. First, I want to explain how the pre-existing vocabulary makes a difference.

Don't give up on language learning because of your age
Don't give up on language learning because of your age

When children are exposed to multiple languages at a young age, the words and sounds they learn will be very new for both their mother tongue and the foreign language they learn. For this reason, two concepts which are normally very complex and full of rules - "Language Adoption" and "Mimicking" - will be simplified according to the child's brain. As a result of this simplification, children who begin to speak these languages will learn to use very complex sentences with words much later. The structures they use will usually be simpler and similar to each other. On the other hand, an adult's brain, thanks to being equipped with a vast vocabulary and a capacity to see the groundwork of languages, can learn English more efficiently because. While a child needs at least 6 to 8 years to speak advanced English, an adult person can reach this proficiency in 1,5 years. Adults can make logical comparisons between their native language and the foreign language they learn. The cornerstone of language learning is vocabulary, and many languages borrow words from different languages. We call these words "Cognates". In the next lesson, I will teach you how to quickly improve your vocabulary with cognates, but let's continue our topic for now.

Language Learning for Adults

Another advantage adults have over children in language learning is the different language learning opportunities. As adults are generally more disciplined than children and are more goal-oriented by nature, we can make better use of different language learning opportunities around us. Two of the biggest difficulties people experience while learning a language are learning languages for the wrong reasons and not being able to benefit from the opportunities around them properly. A child who has not yet reached puberty may not know what is wrong and what is right because his only goal is to finish school and have fun at the same time. Many people of this age have not yet faced the realities of life and their expectations for the future are uncertain. Adults are a bit more flexible and can easily make changes and correct mistakes in their lives when necessary. As adults also have economic freedom, we can benefit from language learning opportunities that we did not have before. For example, there are many paid and free education sites where we can learn English online. You can also take lessons from a teacher on the other side of the world with video conferencing. You can also join international speaking clubs, which increase in number each year and are located in many major cities. If you can afford it, you can live in the capital city of the language you want to learn. You can draw your learning roadmap the way you want.

Start working your brain
Start working your brain

Another advantage you get from learning languages as an adult is that language learning slows down aging and rejuvenates your brain. When we learn a new language, new neural connections are created in our brain, and as a result, our brain's elasticity and capabilities increase. Our brain is also a kind of muscle and the more you strengthen this muscle, the more it will benefit you. Let's not forget that learning a new language greatly prevents brain-related diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Now that you know that your age is no longer an obstacle, let's learn English together! Learning English online is easier than ever. Learning English with Mr. English is wonderful! Our video lesson series will continue!

References

Below you can find the English resources of the research I used in this lesson.

We've come to the end of the lesson, I hope you liked it!

You can access your homework from the links below. Homework is available both in Turkish and English:

Turkish Homework

Age Factor in Language Learning

English Homework

Age Factor in Language Learning

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