Monday, January 4, 2010

Middle aged? Nope, not too old to learn a language

Barbara Strauch of the New York Times writes that the brain doesn't get worse at learning during middle age, but rather it learns differently:
The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.
And what is language learning if not recognizing patterns?

The article continues:
Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young.
Language falls into this box pretty nicely; most people have worked pretty darn hard in their native language (decades of English classes, anyone?), and learning a foreign language will certainly challenge your routine linguistic assumptions.

So this appears to be yet another reason to drop the lame "I'm too old to learn a language" dribble. However, it does seem to suggest that learning for middle-aged adults is going to be quite different from young adults and certainly from adolescents and children. The next step I'd like to see is someone digging into what learning methods are best for what age groups. As I'm not yet in the middle-aged group but am heading there quickly enough, I'd love a take-home message that could help me make my learning time more efficient.

Link: How to Train the Aging Brain [New York Times]


  1. very encouraging. good to know it is still possible at my age.

  2. If I recall correctly, Steve Kaufmann started learning Russian somewhere in the ballpark of 60 years old. That basically means we all have tons of time to get learning languages!

    As for me, when other old folks are playing those little games designed to keep their minds sharp, I hope to be learning some new language to do the same thing...