Are you too old to learn a language at 30, 40, 50, 60 or even 70 years old?

Let’s let Susan B., a student at the SMART Language Learning Academy, answer that question.

I am an almost 80 year old woman who has been studying Spanish on her own for 2 1/2 years. Learning another language has made me a better person and has opened my mind and heart in many ways. It has brought me great joy and enriched my life.

But. I reached the place that you talk about, the intermediate plateau, although I did not realize that it was a "thing." I was discouraged and disheartened and concluded that I was too old, too inept, too horrible at everything to really learn another language.

I began to consider what else I could do with my time, how I could use the space where I stored my many grammar books?   I saw your course and was initially very reluctant to sign up. I am on a fixed income and need to be careful about expenditures. 

Besides, how in the world could you help me, really?

I heard you speak in both English and Spanish, without a hint of an accent, with complete fluidity. You seemed kind and passionate about learning, and more importantly to me, about helping others.

Oh, Luca, I am so grateful. You have restored the joy I felt in learning, you have given me self-confidence, and restored my passion. In three weeks. I am well aware that my time is very limited and I want to be sure that I am spending it in the ways that bring me pleasure. You have made an enormous difference. 

Also, I went to a small restaurant here in the small town in which I Live, (one devoid of Spanish speakers), and the restaurant workers were from El Salvador. I, with new-found confidence, spoke to them in Spanish. As a result, they told me how hard it was for them to live here without English, so I am now enrolled in an ESL teachers' program and will start helping them with English next week!

So, see what you have done!

I tried to learn for a long time without realizing how important the method of learning is, I just copied the way language has been taught in schools, hence all my grammar books. You have given me a path, a structure that is effective and fun and I am very, very grateful.”

How did Susan’s story of learning a new language at nearly 80 years old, go from one filled with struggles to one of unexpected success?

Allow me to answer that by breaking down why you’re never too old to learn a language. We’ll do so by looking at the three fundamental pillars of language learning (as discussed in depth in my eBook): Mindset, Skill set and Self-Organization. 

Mindset: “Game On” Instead of “Game Over” 

There are plenty of language learners out there who have the same mindset as Struggling Susan (the one who felt frustrated after 2.5 years of learning Spanish).  To become more like Successful Susan (the one who experienced amazing breakthroughs), you have to begin with a check up from the neck up. 

Your Outlook Influences the Outcome

The moment you think you’re too old to learn a language, too stupid or too far behind to do anything worthwhile is the moment the battle has already spiralled towards defeat.  Yes, learning a foreign language as you’re older is generally more difficult, especially if it’s your first foreign language, but it doesn’t mean that your goals are destined to live on as daydreams. 

Instead of asking yourself, “Can I learn a language at my age?” why not ask yourself, “What’s the best way to learn a language at my age?” 

Progress Over Perfection

Many adult learners struggle with the notion that they must speak perfectly. However, embracing imperfection is key to making progress. Steve Kaufmann, a 78 year old polyglot and the founder of LingQ, (who is still learning languages mind you) emphasizes the importance of exploration over perfection. By allowing yourself to make mistakes, you open up more opportunities to learn and grow.

Do not waste your precious time chasing a native-like accent or getting every single word right.  Heck, I even make mistakes in my native Italian, let alone my English and Spanish. It’s simply not worth the hassle to address everything that can (and will) go wrong when you use a foreign language. 

Passion, Proximity and Pain

Your reason for learning a language is obviously the most pivotal for your long-term success. However, especially as you grow older, It’s important to consider the proximity of your native language to your target language. For instance, if you are an English speaker, learning Spanish will most likely be easier compared to learning Mandarin (a new script, tones, grammar etc.). 

Generally, the closer the proximity between your native and target languages, the less “pain” (struggle) you’re going to experience in reaching fluency.  Take that into account and prepare yourself mentally for the challenge that lies ahead, because if there’s one fatal mistake we all make when learning a new language, it’s underestimating the time required to get where we want to be. 

Skill Set: Strategies and Techniques to Overcome Feeling Like An Antique

Listen, Listen, Listen

For many “old timers,” they’ve lived their whole lives thinking the traditional classroom approach is the only way to learn a language. Even Susan admitted that using her grammar books relentlessly didn’t yield any significant results. 

That’s why it’s absolutely critical, regardless of age, that you focus on your listening comprehension. The more you expose yourself to the language, the better your understanding and pronunciation will become. Engage with various forms of media, such as podcasts, music, and movies, to immerse yourself in the language. Platforms like Lingopie offer an excellent way to access diverse content in a fun and meaningful manner. 

Get your ears accustomed to the sounds of your target language and preferably, do it with content you actually enjoy! 

Adaptability

When I was younger, I foolishly thought that my approach to language learning was the best for everyone and if anyone dared mess with how I had engineered it, then it wouldn’t yield the same results. When learning Japanese with ASSIMIL and my BDT method, I quickly realized that my lack of flexibility (and adaptability) hindered my progress.

Instead of choosing another source for learning Japanese, I stuck to my “old ways” and hit a deadend in my desire to learn Japanese.  However, I have learned from that experience and now that I’m learning Turkish (another Subject-Object-Verb language), I’ve incorporated more tools than just ASSIMIL to help prevent the same outcome as before. 

If something isn’t working for you, feel free to change it!  As long as what you’re doing is engaging and challenging enough, then the rest will fall into place as you figure out the most fitting methods and strategies for your learning style. 

Tech(Know)logy

Simply put, technology has revolutionized the way we learn languages. Tools such as AI, language learning apps, digital courses, and online tutoring have made languages more accessible and easier to learn. These resources offer personalized lessons, instant feedback, and a wealth of content to suit all proficiency levels. 

Don’t let any past beliefs hinder your ability to make progress like never before. Embrace these technological advancements to maximize your learning potential. If you’re feeling insecure about how to use the technology that’s out there, well, you can do a little research on your own via YouTube or Google.  

More specifically, if you’d like help knowing how to get the most out of ChatGPT with learning a language, you can check out our handy dandy mini-guide. It provides a comprehensive look at how to make ChatGPT your language learning aid, regardless of your current level. 

Self-Organization: No Rush, All the Reward

Free Time for Language Learning

One of the advantages of being older is (generally) having more control over your schedule. This often translates to more free time that can be dedicated to learning a new language. Instead of staring at your refrigerator and wondering if your family will ever call you, view this time as an opportunity to pursue your passion for languages. Establish a consistent study routine that fits your lifestyle, whether it’s early morning sessions, an afternoon language “snack” or an evening marathon of multilingual activities. 

Be Picky!

Over the decade or so, the amount of language learning resources online has ballooned to an incredible amount. Use this to your advantage to discover the things you truly find fascinating. Most people in their 30s and 40s already know exactly what they like and don’t like, so leverage that knowledge to select only the finest material… for yourself! 

Then diversify your resources by including books, articles, podcasts and more on the topics that you truly love. This approach not only keeps the learning process enjoyable but also ensures comprehensive language exposure.

Find a Friend

Many of the more seasoned language learners at the SMART Language Learning Academy have developed long-term language-ships with their tutors.  Afterall, it’s why most of us learn languages, is it not? To connect with another human being and expand our minds (potentially our souls as well).

To do so, leverage the plethora of options available to you via the world wide web and find someone you can speak to on a consistent basis.  Above all, make sure they’re nice and that you feel comfortable speaking your target language with them.  The more often you can see this person, the quicker you’ll make progress. 

Age Matters, But It’s Not All That Matters

Truth be told, it’s never too late to learn a language. Stop asking yourself, “Is it too late to learn a language at 30/40/50?” or “Can I learn a language in my 60s and 70s”? With the right mindset, skill set, and self-organization, you can overcome almost any age-related barriers and achieve fluency in your desired language. 

Always keep in mind Susan’s story and how she turned her limiting beliefs into a journey of linguistic discovery. 

Embrace progress over perfection, leverage today’s technology, and make consistent efforts to practice.  

As the classic saying goes, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." 

Start now, because what do you say when your mind starts telling you that you’re too old to learn a language?

Not today! 

Written by Luca Lampariello

This post contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links.


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