by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon
In this series of posts, I will write about topics relevant to on-going language training, answering questions, discussing issues most learners have, facilitating their learning process and much more. My findings are the combined results of andragogical (andragogy is the word used for adult pedagogy) theories and my sound experience in the field.
That being said, I thought of starting this series with the universal myth of AGE… How many times did I hear “I am too old to learn a second language… I cannot concentrate any longer… I cannot remember anything… I wish I had learned French when I was a kid… etc.”? Too many indeed! This is why I always dedicate a couple of hours at the beginning of any training to explain a few facts so that this negative attitude will not affect my trainees’ learning.
Small children actually learn a second language much faster than adults and children in grade school. But not because of their age! It is only due to their lack of reasoning, questioning and knowledge: they are like sponges absorbing anything the world throws at them and they copycat adults. They only do what they are being told to do until they find their own ways and that comes when they develop the ability of reasoning.
Never ask a 4 year old child to translate the word chair in French or the word chaise in English, the answer will be “Duh!”… Small kids divide the world in two: French and English… they do not connect both languages! Yet, when they start reasoning and making that connection, they go through confusion and it is not uncommon for some to spend a year or two refusing to speak either English or French. Fortunately enough, this phase goes away after they figured out the reasons why they were so mixed up! Although some of them stick to their decision of speaking only the language they chose.
Adults (young or older) do not go through development stages as children do and, because of that, they learn differently: they need to understand the whys and the how, they need answers that make sense to them, they need to connect their mother tongue to the second language and they need to make use of their life experience (their best asset in their learning process).
Yes! There are some deterrents to their learning, but those have nothing to do with their age. All depends on their environment and not on their abilities to learn… Young adults are normally fast learners because their school years are not far behind and they have a methodology.
From my own observations, I would say that adults in their thirties and early forties are the ones who struggle the most due to the pace of their personal and professional lives: they are working towards promotions at work, if married, they have small children requiring lots of care and attention, they often have all sort of training going on in order to broaden their knowledge, they are either hockey moms and dads or soccer moms and dads… and most of the time they learn a second language for the mere purpose of getting a promotion! This generation X is seeking results overnight and they easily get frustrated when they realize that learning a language takes time and lots of effort.
Learners in their late forties and over are probably the best learners of all! The Baby Boomers are not as eager to get a promotion because they are already planning their retirement, therefore learning another language is a personal goal rather than a professional one. Their children are adults and do not require their devoted attention any longer so they have more time for themselves: learning a second language is still a challenge for them, but they enjoy it more than their younger peers who feel pressured all the time.
Hopefully this article demystified an old myth and will encourage people of all ages to consider the positive aspects of learning a second language and jump into a pool of fun… because adults are not much different from children: they learn better and faster when the door is open on creativity… But that will be the topic of another article… Stay tuned!