Issue 225 - Too old to learn?

rat
Find out more about
Net Languages courses
Basic

Vocabulary: School subjects

Look and listen.

 

Can you remember? Choose the correct option.

 

The news story

Read and listen to the news story.

Too old to learn?

Carmen is a retired art teacher. She is 69 years old. She started learning English four years ago. “I wasn’t sure,” Carmen said. “Maybe I’m too old to learn a language.” But, in fact, she doesn’t have a problem. She is doing level 4 now and she gets good marks in her exams. So, how easy is it to learn a language when you are 69?

Scientists in the USA discovered that it is easier to learn a language before the age of 17. After 17, it is more difficult to learn the grammar of a new language.

Why is language learning more difficult for older learners? Some scientists think that there is a critical period for language learning. They think that we have a special mechanism in the brain that helps us to learn languages. After the age of 17 this mechanism stops working. But not all scientists agree.

The good news is that many older people have good study skills and they can learn a new language without a problem. Maybe they won’t learn to speak like a native, but they can learn to communicate effectively.

The message is clear: most people can learn a new language when they are 40, 50, 60 or 70!

Find out more about
Net Languages courses
Intermediate

Grammar: Sequencing past time

Choose the best option.

The news story

Read and listen to the news story.

Too old to learn?

Carmen, 69, is a retired art teacher. Four years ago she signed up for an online English course. “At first, I was unsure,” she explained. “I thought that maybe I was too old to learn a language.” In fact, she is now doing the fourth year of her online course. She is making good progress and is getting good marks in all her exams. But how easy is it to learn a language when you are Carmen’s age?

Many people think that learning a language is easier when you are young. A recent study in the USA confirmed that it is easier to learn a new language perfectly before the age of 17. After that age it is more difficult to learn the grammar rules, so older learners usually don’t learn to speak the language like a native.

Why do older learners find it more difficult to learn grammar? Some scientists think there is a critical period for language learning. They think that we have a special mechanism in the brain that helps us learn languages, and that this mechanism stops working after the age of 17 or 18.

But other scientists think that the reason may be cultural. Around the age of 18, life changes for many young people. They leave home, start working or continue with more specialised studies. Maybe they are too busy to focus on language learning.

The good news is that many older learners have better study skills than children and can learn a foreign language without a problem. Maybe they won’t learn to speak like a native speaker, but they can still learn to communicate effectively in the new language.

The message is clear: most people can learn a new language at any age.

Find out more about
Net Languages courses
Advanced

Vocabulary: Words related to higher education

Choose the best word to complete the sentence.

The news story

Read and listen to the news story.

Too old to learn?

Carmen, 69, a retired art teacher, is one of hundreds of mature students enrolled in foreign language courses. When she retired five years ago, Carmen signed up for an online English course. “At first, I was unsure,” she explained. “I thought that maybe I was too old to learn a language.” In fact, now enrolled in the fourth year of her online course, Carmen is making good progress and is getting top marks in her exams. But how easy is it to learn a language when you are Carmen’s age?

Popular wisdom has it that learning a language is easier when you are young. A recent study carried out in the USA confirmed that people who started learning English before the age of 17 have a better chance of reaching the level of a native speaker. After this age, it becomes harder to learn some aspects of grammar. An example of this is the third person singular “s”, as in “She goes.” Young learners pick up this rule easily, whereas older learners keep getting it wrong.

Why do older learners find it more difficult to learn some aspects of grammar? Some scientists believe there is a critical period for language learning. They suggest that we have a special mechanism in the brain that allows us to pick up languages and that this mechanism stops working in our late teens.

But other scientists suggest that the reason may be cultural. Around the age of 18, life changes for many young people. They leave home, start working or enter higher education. They might simply be too busy with other things to focus on language learning.

The good news is that many older learners, even at Carmen’s age, are perfectly capable of learning a foreign language. They may not reach native-like accuracy in grammar or pronunciation, but they can still become effective communicators in their chosen language.

In fact, older people often have better study skills than children. In one study, people of different ages were given the same amount of instruction in a foreign language. The older learners all did better at control tests than the younger ones.

The message is clear: most people can learn a new language at pretty much any age.

Interview: listen to more about the topic

Think about your answers to the following questions. Then listen to somebody answering the same questions. Were your answers similar?

Find out more about
Net Languages courses