I received a lot of feedback from my post about children and adults regarding language acquisition so I’d like to continue with this topic because there is so much misinformation out there that needs to be addressed.
Another English teacher commented that in her experience, her adult students lacked the ability to embrace a different way of thinking/processing. She gave this example:
For an English speaker to learn Japanese from scratch, it takes a complete mind shift starting from the very basic syntax of the language. I just think (and observe) that that ability to accept this very different way is a lot easier when you have, say, 4, years of first language interference than it is when you have 50 years of it.
She makes a very valid point. I often hear from my students, “…but in German we do it like this”. I have to remind them that English is a different language with different rules, and that sometimes, words and phrases cannot be translated word for word. For example, in English we would say “I drive a car but I ride a bicycle.” In German, both sentences would use the same verb fahren. That is why you’ll hear people say, “I drive a bicycle to work.”
So yes, your first language can be an obstacle to learning a new language when you try to translate everything.
Here’s my advice…
The three pillars of my teaching method are: respect, openness and empathy. Openness refers to having an open mind to new ideas and methods. As long as you are open to being taught, you will learn. But if you think you know everything, you will not learn. Science has demonstrated that even into old age, the brain is still capable of learning new things. Stay open and you’ll be surprised how much you learn.
Now that we got that out of the way, here are 3 advantages adults have to children regarding language learning.
More life experience to draw from
Adults have a wealth of life experience to draw from when learning a new language. This can be a considerable advantage, as it allows them to better understand and remember new concepts. Additionally, adults are often more patient than children, which can be helpful when learning something new.
I started learning Turkish this year. Believe it or not, my knowledge of French and Spanish have helped me. I can make connections with the languages I speak, which makes it easier to remember the new vocabulary. Also, because I already speak 4 languages, I know how to learn a new language. There are methods and strategies that are more effective than others. Check out my learning techniques to make your own learning more productive.
More developed cognitive skills
Adults also have more developed cognitive skills than children, which can help them to learn a new language more quickly. Adults are better able to understand abstract concepts and to remember new information. Additionally, they are often better able to apply what they have learned to real-world situations.
For example, for me to remember the Turkish word for foot, ayak, I looked for something in my database of words that sounds similar. I found that the word kayak is almost the same. I created a mental image of myself in a kayak using my feet to paddle.
Another advantage that adults have over children as language learners is that they are generally more motivated to learn. Adults often have a specific reason for wanting to learn a new language, such as for travel or work. This motivation can help adults to stick with the learning process and to make rapid progress.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only child who said, “why do I have to learn that?” Children have a difficult time understanding the value of education. Adults on the other hand, learn things for specific purposes so they’re more motivated to learn.
Ultimately, I don’t want to argue that adults are better language learners than children, because this has the danger of discouraging those who want their children to do better. My point is that we all have our advantages, and it is much more practical to look at those advantages than to dwell on and exaggerate any challenges either group has. If you want to improve your English skills, contact me for 1 on 1 lessons.