You have probably heard that learning a second language becomes exponentially more difficult as you age. It’s common knowledge that language learning is easier when you are under the age of ten because your brain is still developing. However, even though this is true, doesn’t mean that it is impossible to learn a language at an older age. Your brain is capable of far more than you think, and there are even some advantages to learning a language at an older age.
In the past, scientists were under the impression that your brain structure for the rest of your life is completely determined by the development you go through as a child. However, recent research has disproved this way of thinking. One study of London taxi drivers found that they had a higher volume of gray matter in the hippocampus, where spatial memory is stored. This is evidence to the existence of neuroplasticity, meaning the ability of the brain to form new neural connections. This study launched extensive research into neuroplasticity, which has show that older brains can change and learn just as readily as young brains.
In the context of language learning in particular, studies have shown that language learning changes the structure of adult brains. One study of military interpreters found significant growth in the hippocampus after three months of intensely studying language. Language learning builds your brain’s capacity for cognition, and may even delay the onset of dementia. Clearly, just because you are older, doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of learning a new language.
You may feel daunted by the idea of learning a new language as an older adult; after all, your memory isn’t what it used to be. While a younger person could have this advantage, older adults actually do have an advantage when it comes to language learning. Essentially, you already know how to learn from years of practice, so you are a master of self-directed learning. Being able to self-direct your learning is an advantage in language learning because you can make better choices about where to concentrate your efforts. You also know how you learn by this point, so you have better strategies for retaining information than your younger peers.
So what are you waiting for? Age is just a number! Come into Crossing Borders Languages for our Mandarin, German, French, or Spanish classes in Houston.