Learning a language when you are older
I received an interesting question a little while ago. I was asked if there are advantages to learning a language later in life. I guess “later in life” is the nice way of saying “when you’re old.”
What I found interesting about this question is it was the opposite of what I’m usually asked about language and age. The usual question is something along the line of, “Why is it harder to learn a language when you are older?” (It’s not, see below). So I did some research and happily found that are a lot of significant advantages to learning a language when you are older.
It is easier to learn a language when you are older
First, and just the opposite of what you have probably heard, this idea that it gets harder to learn a language as you get older is totally a myth. Children don’t have an advantage over us old guys. In fact, it is easier to learn a language when you are older.
A meta-study done by Brown at Young’s Town University and Larson-Hall at Kitakyushu University found that adults learn languages faster than children. Although children do attain fluency faster and can attain a native accent more easily than adults.
The reason it’s easier to learn a language the older we get is that we have more experience learning. That is, we know how to learn and what works for us. Also, adults are more disciplined to study and stay with a course longer than children typically are.
And of course, if you are learning a language when you are older it’s probably because you personally want to learn or there’s a raise, promotion, or some other reward attached to it – and the means you are motivated.
So, now that we know it’s not just possible to learn a language as we age but that age has the advantage, what are the benefits?
The advantages of learning a language when you are older
It turns out that age has another advantage in the benefits section too. There are advantages to learning a language at any point in life. But if you are older there are additional advantages.
Being bilingual helps older adults by slowing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. To be clear, bilingualism does not stop Alzheimer’s or reverse it but if you are going to get Alzheimer’s it does delay getting it. And the delay is significant. On average language learning will keep your mind sharp and clear for 4.5 years longer than if you were not bilingual.
Makes you smarter
A second language improves cognitive functionality by challenging the brain to recognize and negotiate meaning, and communicate differently. This results in higher scores on standardized tests in math, reading, and vocabulary. Translation – it makes you smarter.
Bilingualism improves memory. Those learning a second language are better at remembering lists, names, and directions according to a study from the University of New Brunswick. This is no great surprise since learning a language requires a good amount of memorizing, particularly when it comes to vocabulary.
Multilingual’s are better at observing their surroundings. They have better focus and they are better at spotting misleading information a study at Pompeu Fabra University in Spain revealed.
Make better decisions
A University of Chicago study reported by Business Insider found that bilinguals make better decisions and have more confidence in those decisions.
Learn a second language!
So if you want to
- slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease
- be smarter
- improve your memory
- Improve your observation skills
- have better focus
- be able to identify misleading information
- make better decisions
- have more confidence