The Myth: Older People Can’t Learn A Language


The Myth: Older People Can’t Learn A Language

By Geralde Vincent-Bancroft

Anyone who has ever tried to learn a new language can attest to the fact that it is not an easy task. It takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work. However, many people believe that it is impossible to learn a language as you get older. This belief is nothing but a myth! 

In this blog post, we will debunk this myth and provide evidence that proves that you can indeed learn a new language at any age!

Debunking the myth: Older people can’t learn a language

 Is there a decline in the ability to learn as people get older?

The answer may surprise you: there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that older people are less capable of learning a new language. In fact, recent research has shown that older learners may actually have some advantages over their younger counterparts. They can be good foreign language learners. 

A great deal of research has been done on the topic, and it’s clear that while children may have an advantage in native-like fluency as they age, adults actually learn languages more quickly than kids at an early stage. 

This is likely due to a number of factors such as motivation or engagement – but one important difference between these groups could be their belief about whether they can succeed at learning another language.

 Young learners are often confident because there haven’t yet been any obstacles during development periods where other skills metres improve greatly over time (e..g., reading). On the other hand,  older individuals sometimes feel discouraged by past experiences which make them question if anything will come easy again later down in life.

Thecritical periodhypothesis was developed in the 60s based on current brain development theories, which argue that after puberty there is little room for learning new skills. However recent research in neurology has proven that children and adults learn languages differently because of developmental differences between them. Adults have superior language learning capabilities especially in the areas of vocabulary and language structure.

The stereotype of the older adult as a poor language learner is to be quashed. Adults use their previous learning experience to help them acquire a new skill such as learning a language. They also use their long-term memory function allowing them to apply their new knowledge in a more constructive way. 

Older learners often have an advantage over their younger counterparts in that they tend to be more strategic in their approach to learning. They are more likely to set realistic goals and develop a plan to reach them. This can help them make the most of their time and avoid frustration.

 In addition, older learners often have more life experience to draw on when problem-solving. As a result, they may be better equipped to handle challenges and setbacks. 

Whether you’re looking to learn a new language or simply brush up on your skills, there’s no need to feel discouraged. Learning is a lifelong process, and it’s never too late to start reaping the benefits.

Motivation and self-confidence are two important factors for language learners

Encouraging older language learners

Older people can’t learn a language: Enhancing Motivation and self-confidence

Motivation and self-confidence are two important factors for language learners; and older learners have a heightened fear of failure. This may be due to their mindset-buying on the old stereotype that they are unable to learn, or because of past failed attempts.  So when they are faced with stressful situations, they tend to retreat and show more insecurity.

What can we do as educators to help reduce this anxiety and build self-confidence in our older learners?

First, it’s important to remember that we are all different and that there is no one “right” way to learn a language. Older learners may have different learning styles than younger learners. They may prefer a more gradual approach with fewer new concepts introduced at once. Or they might prefer a more interactive and communicative approach.

Secondly, it’s important to provide Older learners with opportunities to use the language in a low-pressure environment. This could be something as simple as setting up regular conversation hours or providing online resources that they can access at their own pace.

Thirdly, Older learners need to be given time to practise what they have learned. This could be in the form of homework assignments, group work, or even just informal conversation practice with a friend or family member.

 It’s so important for language teachers to make an effort to give older learners regular feedback and encouragement. With a little extra effort, older students can reap the same benefits as their younger counterparts. A word of encouragement can go a long way towards helping older students stay engaged and confident in their abilities.

Adapting lessons 

There are a number of ways to adapt lessons so that they are more effective for older students. For example, older students may benefit from shorter, more focused activities. They may also need more time to process information and practise new skills.

 In addition, it is important to keep in mind that some older students may have difficulty hearing or seeing. As a result, educators should make sure that materials are clearly audible and visible. 

It is important to make sure that lessons are not too challenging or overwhelming for older learners. 

Also, older learners often have different goals than younger learners. They may be more interested in learning conversational skills or cultural information, for example, rather than grammar rules. It is therefore important to tailor lessons to the needs and interests of older learners. They may prefer to learn about topics that are relevant to their lives, such as history or current events. 

By tailoring lessons to the needs of older students, instructors can help ensure that everyone has a chance to succeed.

Finally, older learners may have different learning styles than younger learners. They may prefer to learn in smaller groups or at a slower pace, for instance.

 By taking these factors into account, teachers can ensure that older language learners have a positive and successful experience.

It is important to teach older learners to find and use information quickly and efficiently

Older people can’t learn a language:

Teaching older learners to improve with information organisation

In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing world, it’s more important than ever to be able to effectively organise information. Being able to find and use information quickly and efficiently can make a big difference in our day-to-day lives. 

However, for some older learners who have little formal education, this skill may not come naturally. That’s why it’s important to introduce them to strategies for organising information.

 One technique that can be useful is creating an outline. This involves breaking down the main points of the information into smaller, more manageable chunks. By doing this, older learners can better see the overall structure of the information and how each piece fits together. 

Additionally, using colours or symbols to code different types of information can also be helpful in making it easier to find and use specific items later on.

Another helpful technique is known as the ‘PQRST method’. This stands for Preview, Question, Read, State, and Test. 

To use this method, first take a look at the material you need to learn – this will help you get an idea of what’s ahead. Next, formulate some questions that you want to answer by reading the material. Then, read through the information and make some notes. 

Finally, test yourself on what you’ve learned by seeing if you can answer your original questions. 

 With a little practice, these and other strategies can help older learners become more adept at organising information.


So there you have it, the myth that older people can’t learn a language, debunked. Older people are just as capable of learning a new language as younger people, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 There’s no excuse not to start learning that language you’ve always wanted to know. Just because you’re not a child anymore doesn’t mean you can’t learn something new.

Do you have any experience learning a language as an older person? Share your story in the comments below! 

And if you’re looking for more language learning resources, be sure to check out our website. We have  the resources you need to get started on your language learning journey

. Thanks for reading!

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