Some of the biggest myths related to language learning surround age. And while age is one of the many factors that determine your ability to learn a language, it is far from the most important.
First, consider how children learn a language. Starting from birth, they are immersed in their target language every day. They have a personal tutor correcting their mistakes (parents). And once in school, they study the language daily for a number of years. They spend thousands of hours directly and indirectly learning the language. And still, for almost everyone around the world, they haven’t completely “mastered” the language until age 16 or 17. How many years would it take you to master a language if you were practicing daily? Probably not 16 years, probably not ten. Five, maybe? Find me a child capable of that.
Children do have some advantages over adults. They usually learn the language daily, thereby frequently reinforcing neural associations. They have high levels of motivation because they want to communicate with the world around them! They have loads of free time to practice and study. They have more confidence and less stress. And their minds seem to absorb new sounds better than adults.
Adults have some advantages, too. For one, they already know a language and can use this to help them learn subsequent languages, for example, using cross-over. Furthermore, they understand how they learn best and can choose the strategy that fits their strengths and preferred learning methods (unlike a child, who has no control on how or what they learn). Finally, compared to a young child, an adult can receive explanations on how the language works, learn grammar rules, and independently research questions they might have regarding the language.
If adults can adapt some of the learning characteristics that children unintentionally apply to language learning, and combine them with the advantages available to adults, they may even have an advantage.
Age is not a valid excuse for not learning a language. Lack of motivation, time, and confidence are.
Immersion, Neural Associations, Motivation, Time, Subsequent Languages, Cross-Over, Strategy, Confidence