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May 2018

New Studies on Adult Language Learning

Why you shouldn’t let age stop language exploration

Want to think more efficiently? Pick up an instrument or learn a new language, a recent study by the Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute has found, because such memory tasks train the brain to rely on fewer resources. This is good news for students of languages, especially adults who find themselves in a world where thinking more efficiently is always beneficial. Learning a new language isn’t just knowledge acquisition; it’s also exercise for the brain.

While we may rely increasingly on our mobile devices to store knowledge for us, we still need a lot of cognitive prowess to parse through the increasing number of stimuli that bombard us every day. Learning a new language can help improve working memory and the ability to solve cognitive puzzles, like math problems performed in the mind. Bilingual participants in the aforementioned study were found to process auditory cues faster than those who knew only one language. This is due to the increased activation of the speech comprehension area of their brains.

We already know that there are many benefits to learning a new language, both cognitively and culturally, but many older learners may feel discouraged from the belief that the childhood years were the best time to learn, and that learning in adulthood is a steep uphill climb.

Fret not.

A recent study published in the journal Cognition finally dispels this myth. Researchers concluded that adult learners can not only become fluent in new languages, but that they were actually better at learning new languages than younger learners.

So why do we tend to believe that children learn foreign languages better? While researchers found that late starters generally outperform younger students, there are still areas of grammar at which younger students excel. These are the simple yet irregular grammar rules that seem to stump older learners, but with which younger learners pick up faster.

This may have to do with the elasticity of the young mind, allowing it to process linguistic rules more naturally than adults. Researchers call this the "critical window" hypothesis which describes a "special mechanism" that allows younger students to absorb certain aspects of languages faster, a period that ends with puberty. Still, other researchers believe it may simply have to do with the fact that older students are too busy with other things to thoroughly learn something new.

The bottom line is that students of all ages can become fluent in any language, and no study should convince or dissuade you from learning. In the end, it all comes down to how well you study and how much daily time you put into learning. As wise people often say, every journey is a series of individual steps.

Do you agree with these recent linguistic studies? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles!

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