Is learning English after 40 still possible? Let us find out if age has indeed something to do with language learning!
As the saying goes, “Life begins at 40,” it could be a good chance for a late English enthusiast to consider learning English after 40. It would encourage the hopeless learners if you showed that age doesn’t matter in learning English and proved that the older, the better. Here are some of the advantages of learning English at an old age
- It prevents age-related illnesses
- Adults have more attention span
- Adults have more life experience
- Adult learners have a greater self-discipline
- Adult English enthusiasts learn independently
Learning English after 40: The Critical Period Hypothesis
Learning English after 40 might be challenging. However, while age is linked to language learning, it does not mean older people have no hope. These are purposeful to propel your hope to strive for knowledge and experience in English. Help yourself discover the studies, misconceptions, and advantages of learning a second language like English.
A language theory called Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) discusses the connection of age with language learning. Eric Lenneberg proposed a distinct period of man’s life during which language acquisition is more effortless. A language becomes more difficult to learn beyond this period. CPH claims that language learning can only happen during the critical period of age 2 to puberty. For instance, it will be much easier for a two-year-old learner until puberty to learn English as a second language. Beyond the period mentioned, the learning process becomes complicated.
Additionally, this hypothesis is based on the biological observation that a child’s brain is flexible, whereas an adult’s brain is solid and set. Language appears to be more spread throughout both brain hemispheres during early life. But, as the kid grows older and the two hemispheres become increasingly specialized for specific functions, language eventually relocates, settling in the left one. Hence, this widely opposes the English learning beyond puberty or even learning English after 40!
Generally, Lenneberg presents three points to support his hypothesis in his book “Biological Foundations of Language” (1967):
- Language acquisition is a physiologically limited process.
- Language is often learned over some time (early life or puberty).
- Outside of this time, the language is learned by a different method or with difficulty.
Genie Wiley and Her Feral Language Development
One of the most active pieces of evidence supporting CPH is the case of a feral child named Genie Wiley. Genie was born on April 18, 1957. When she was a newborn, her father determined that she was mentally disabled. It worsened as she grew older, leading her father to withhold care and attention. Genie’s father decided to keep her socially separated from when she was 20 months old until 13 years old. He also kept her imprisoned alone in a room.
Genie’s isolation prevented her from communicating with others. As a result, she never learned a language as a child. Genie’s maltreatment was discovered by Los Angeles child welfare officials on November 4, 1970, when her partially blind mother, who Genie’s father had also abused, took Genie out and wandered into the social services room by accident.
Later on, Genie was regarded as a crucial study of language. Genie underwent a series of tests. One of them was a sleep study in which she wore electrodes on her head to monitor her brain activity. Genie was found to be mentally retarded, as his father claimed. Nevertheless, scientists could not tell if Genie was intellectually handicapped from birth or due to her maltreatment.
Furthermore, Genie’s case recognizes Lenneberg’s hypothesis of a “critical period.” Genie confirmed the theory by proving how difficult it was for her to learn a new language. She could not form complete phrases, and she spoke in a childlike manner.
Age-Related Myths in Learning a Second Language like English
Whether or not the story of the feral child interests you, Lenneberg’s theory will not hinder your perception and hope. When hope dies, what else lives? No need to scratch your head and contemplate more about CPH and Genie. You still have the remarkable capability to enlighten Lenneberg that his assumption is a mere theory.
Some studies counter the claims about Genie’s linguistic disability anchored with CPH. These studies say that the child’s traumatic experiences lead to her intellectual and language disability. These facts bridge us to knowing the existing myths about second language learning related to age.
Myth no. 1: Young ages are more inclined to learn a language than adults.
Some claim that children learn languages more quickly than adults. This assertion stems from the previous hypothesis, the CPH. It argues that young learners have a more adaptable cortex than older learners. As a result, their learning is more flexible. Nevertheless, many researchers have questioned the concept of the critical period concept in recent years, and it is currently highly controversial. The biological linkage of learning, particularly age, is more connected with psychological and social influences. It means that children are usually placed in more circumstances in which they are obliged to say the second language than adults.
However, experimental research comparing children to adults in second language learning has repeatedly shown that adolescents and adults do better than young children under controlled conditions. Children do poorer than adolescents and adults, even when the teaching style promotes learning. Thus, language proficiency will prove the truth against the mentioned myth. The needs for communicating as a kid differ significantly from those for sharing as an adult. Compared to what is required for adults to talk at the same level of proficiency, children’s constructions are shorter and more straightforward, and their vocabulary is limited.
Hence, the impression that a child learns faster than an adult is not accurate. Controlled research in formal and informal learning environments consistently shows that adult learners outperform early children in language proficiency.
Myth no.2: The earlier children begin to learn a second language, the better.
The CPH claims that children should begin learning the language as early as possible. However, the scientific literature does not support this result, at least not in school settings. For example, a study of 17,000 British children learning French found that children who began French teaching at the age of 11 did better on competency tests after five years than children who started at the age of eight. This study determined that older learners are better than younger learners. Other European research has also revealed similar outcomes, including studies of Swedish children learning English, Swiss children learning French, and Danish children learning English.
Meanwhile, the “younger is better” notion may be true in one element of language learning: pronunciation. Many studies have revealed that the younger the learner learns a second language, the more native-like their accent becomes. That indeed balances the myth because pronunciation is crucial in language learning, especially in English.
The Benefit of Learning English at a Young Age
When hope lives, what else hinders it? Whether you are a young or an adult learner, learning is universal. It does not discriminate against even the most abused feral child. It keeps tracking the most remote place to give access for growth. How much more of the English language? It has become the international language not just to link the entire world but also to connect language learning regardless of age. Let us discover the advantages of learning English at a young age.
1. It prepares children to be professional problem solvers.
Children who learn English as a second language grow to be great problem solvers and creative thinkers. Their brains are constantly working to figure out which language to speak and when from an early age. According to studies, bilingual kids have more excellent planning, concentration, multitasking skills, and problem-solving abilities. If you are an old English learner, you can also put your child up for success by teaching them a second language like English early. They could pass their learnings to the future generation in their adult age.
2. It exposes children to a constant mental workout.
Bilinguals continually exercise their minds as they participate in multiple linguistic communication. Researchers and educators throughout the 20th century discouraged students from studying a second language. According to them, learning a second language can hamper children’s intellectual and cognitive development. Nevertheless, data suggests that bilingual children encounter language system interference; it turns out that the internal struggle that bilingual children face makes them excellent problem solvers.
3. It fosters creative thinking among children.
Another advantage of learning a second language like English at a young age is a rise in creativity. There are numerous studies that show evidence. This creativity test often uses the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) of Ellis Paul Torrance. These assessments evaluate “divergent thinking,” or thinking creatively and outside the box. Fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration are the four ways they consider participants’ divergent thinking. On the TTCT, bilingual children dominated the high scores.
4. It opens opportunities for the youngster to connect with other cultures.
Communicating with more individuals from other cultures is one of the most exciting benefits of learning a second language at a young age. Children who acquire a second language will have excellent possibilities to travel the world and learn about different cultures.
English has become the world’s lingua franca or common language. People can interact when they do not speak the same native tongue through English. Many young people all around the globe nowadays have an excellent command of the English language. On the other hand, children who speak English as a first language are fortunate. They can go to many places and communicate with many people from all over the world as they grow and mature. In this way, they can develop tolerance and understanding of cultural diversity.
5. It equips the children in the workforce
That is excellent news! In this age of globalization, more businesses require people to communicate in English. Furthermore, employees with good English command have higher compensation than their monolingual counterparts.
This statement is accurate for jobs other than translation and interpretation. There’s a high demand for employees who can interact across boundaries and internationalize their company’s products or services. As a result, employers frequently want individuals who can translate into one or more languages and specialize in a given subject. Bilinguals with experience or competence in the legal, medical, technical, or scientific domains can obtain high-paying translation and interpreting positions. The multilingual professionals might then demand a high fee for translating documents relating to their expertise.
The Advantages of Learning English after 40
Step aside, youngsters. Here come the oldies to snatch the spot. Learning beyond the age of 40 is feasible. We hope that these advantages will propel your enthusiasm for the English language.
1. It prevents age-related illnesses
You will never forget this fact! Mental processes like memory and attentiveness might deteriorate as one becomes older. When this process progresses too quickly, it might result in illnesses such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, English and other second languages will help adult learners prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia diseases.
According to research, persons who frequently speak a second language may prevent Alzheimer’s disease by 4.5 years. According to a new study published in the journal Neuropsychologia, bilingualism causes changes in brain structure connected to resilience against Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment. This is due to the ongoing work that a multilingual brain undergoes as it filters information in two languages.
Moreover, recent research claims that learning a second language can help decrease or even prevent the onset of dementia. Scientists suggest adults execute brain gymnastics. Through this, the brain is protected from degenerating. One brain gymnastics that you can do is learn a new language like English.
2. Adults have more attention span
Let us admit it. Young learners do not have the same concentration level as adults. They are more easily bored. They are more easily sidetracked. Older persons, particularly those above 40 or 50, frequently have superior concentration. They are more mature and can focus and concentrate for more extended periods. Adults have an advantage in speaking English fluently because of their excellent concentration skills.
3. Adults have more life experience
Life experience propels language learning. More experience means more images in your mind and more events in your memory. It is easier for you to connect in English conversation. As a result, when you are learning English phrases, idioms, vocabulary, and so on, you can combine those with actual memories and experiences from your own life.
4. Adult learners have a greater self-discipline
Self-discipline is learned through life experience. As one grows older, the realization that no one else can help you other than yourself prompts you to succeed. Instructors are available. Coaches are available. But, in the end, you see that your self-discipline is the secret to your success. It has been the secret to your success in your job, career, and family life up to this point. This is something that many young people are unaware of. They believe that everything should be simple. They believe the teacher will take care of it. Older students are more self-disciplined. Therefore, they realize this is not true.
5. Adult English enthusiasts learn independently
Younger learners learn independently in school. Sometimes the school employs ineffective approaches, which children are forced to do. Because they are trapped in the school system, they are obliged to learn stuff that will not help them speak English fluently. However, older people, especially those above 40, are far more self-reliant. They have a clear idea of what they aspire to. They understand why they want to learn English. Thus, they can devise an independent study schedule that meets their needs and fulfills their desires.
In connection, most people attain financial independence in their adult age. This makes it easier to engage in English learning. It could indicate that they are better positioned to plan a trip or perhaps relocate to another nation to improve their language skills.
Learning English after 40: Key Takeaways
Whatever age status you are right now, do not cease learning. Do not think that you will have difficulty learning English or that English is best for young people. That is scientifically not true! You have tremendous advantages as an older learner. So, get working and enjoy your English learning; you will speak English fluently. Indeed, learning English after 40 is possible!