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You may have met some articles that claim that it’s impossible to reach a native-like level in a second language if you start learning it after the age of 10 (or 18, depending on the article). The earlier you start learning, the more incredible results you can reach. But is it unwavering truth? If you’re reading this article, it means you would like to learn a second language (or you’re already in the process), but you doubt it. Let’s find the truth together.

Can you learn a language at any age?

Generally, it is true that the later you start learning a foreign language, the fewer chances you have to reach a native-like level. But is it impossible?

Following the data, it is POSSIBLE. The journal Cognition published an article, “A Critical Period for Second Language Acquisition,” which provides new insights into how people learn languages and whether age has something to do with it.

In a few words, this team discovered that starting to learn a language before age 18 gives you a much better chance of mastering its grammar like a native speaker. This age is older than what was previously described in other research and articles. This data shows us that adult language learners have the same chances of obtaining language mastery as children do.

If you read the research in detail, you will see that there are obvious advantages to starting learning at a young age. However, looking more closely at the data helps us understand there are a lot of “late learners” who outperformed native speakers. Additionally, it is stated that with the same amount of time, the top 25% of learners over 20 perform just as well as the average learners who started before age 10.

Adult language learning compared to young learners

We think it’s even a bit unfair to compare “late learners” to children.

If you start learning a language at age 5, you’re not just studying from a book for an hour a day. You’re likely in an environment where the language is spoken for several hours each day. However, if you start learning a language after age 20, you probably won’t have several hours a day in such an environment.

This creates a problem with interpreting the data. The data tells us a lot, but it doesn’t provide the most crucial information, which is the total exposure these learners have had. Generally, if you start learning after age 20, your daily exposure to the language will be much lower than if you started at age 5.

For example, if a child is in an English-speaking school for 5 hours a day while a parent studies the same language for 1 hour a day, and the child learns 5 times faster than the parent, is it fair to conclude that kids learn better than adults?

The research says, “showing that people who began learning at a certain age reached native-like proficiency merely indicates that they learned fast enough, not that they learned as fast as a native speaker, just as the fact that two runners both finished a race indicates only that they both started early enough and ran fast enough, not that they ran at the exact same speed.”

In other words, it doesn’t mean that it’s harder for older learners to reach mastery or that they’re not capable; maybe they just don’t have as much time and opportunities as children.

This paper shows that even if you start much later in life, it’s still possible (though less common) to achieve very high levels of mastery.

How to learn a second language as an adult

As you noticed from the thoughts above, children and adults learn language differently. While adults face some challenges—like sounds or memorizing—that might be easy for children, kids can’t master skills that are easier for adults (like grammar rules or reading). That’s why they learn in different ways. Adults, in most cases, are afraid of making mistakes, while children speak what they hear without considering any rules.

So, are there any special techniques for adult language learning?

Where to start your adult language learning journey?

It is true that adults may face some challenges in language learning that can be harder for them to overcome than kids. But that doesn’t mean that grown-ups shouldn’t try. Put in some effort, and you will be rewarded.

Set goals

This may sound like general advice you can find everywhere on the Internet. However, in terms of adult language learning, it is absolutely helpful. There is a specific goal behind our every decision. Only kids can learn a language because their parents want them to do it. It’s another story when you’re a grown-up. When you know what exactly you want to achieve, getting a step-by-step plan and tracking your progress will be easier.

For example, on LiveXP, to get a Personalized Learning Path to master English, you need to indicate your goal, current proficiency level, and interests. The system needs to know the first two points to create a detailed plan to lead you to your goal, which is divided into smaller topics you need to cover. The third point is needed to get personalized and engaging exercises on your smartphone to practice between the private lessons.

Learn at your own pace and style

The majority of online courses or group lessons can’t offer you any personalization in terms of learning pace and style. That’s you who should adjust to these courses or lessons. However, it’s important not to waste your time but to use those resources that meet your style and preferences to achieve your goals.

The LiveXP platform gives you the flexibility to choose any language tutor on the platform based on your preferences, such as the tutor’s country or accent, other languages the tutor speaks, and even interests. With similar interests, your conversational classes will be engaging, and you can expand your vocabulary on your favorite topics. The LiveXP subscription allows you to learn at any pace. The major advantage is that you can get a FREE trial lesson with any tutor on LiveXP.

Practice with a tutor with whom you feel comfortable

Have you ever had group classes or even private ones with a tutor with whom you couldn’t relax or discuss your favorite movie? In most cases, we experience it in schools. When we are grown-ups, we understand that it’s a waste of time. Today, there are plenty of resources where we can find language tutors for learning a second language as an adult in the most comfortable way. LiveXP is one of them. Here, you can try as many tutors as you want. And even when you already have a subscription to study consistently, you can switch to another tutor or learn with several ones at the same time.

Learn new vocabulary consistently

The essential part of learning a new language is expanding your vocabulary. You need to read books, newspapers, articles, blogs, etc., to meet new words and phrases. The second part of this task is to memorize these words. What we did before was write down new vocabulary, translate it, and then try to learn it. Nowadays, we read anywhere—on a bus, a train, or in cafes—and it’s a bit uncomfortable to write down new words in a notebook and translate them. But we have our smartphone with us almost 24 hours a day. You can add new vocabulary to Word Trainer in the LiveXP app and get an instant translation. You learn these words by practicing their pronunciation and spelling, and you use them in context. The system reminds you when you need to practice them again according to a spaced repetition method. This method ensures that you don’t overwork yourself with memorizing and vice versa.

Build a systematic approach to learning a second language as an adult

Unlike children, adults need a system and strict steps in their learning plan: learn grammar topic by topic, expand vocabulary, practice writing and speaking, etc. Children can learn all these skills by just being in the environment where the target language is spoken (kindergarten, for example). They absorb vocabulary very fast and catch basic grammar naturally by just listening to others speak. This approach doesn’t work the same for adults.

We need a system not just because we can’t learn the same way children do. We need a system to master all language skills step by step in order to communicate effectively. Especially if we’re in a business environment, we must speak professionally. Unlike children, our grammar or spelling mistakes can cost us a lot.

A systematic approach isn’t something hard, and you just need to practice consistently. Find a great language teacher who will create a learning plan for you. Don’t miss your private lessons with the tutor, do all the homework that is assigned to you, practice in your free time, learn new words with Word Trainer, and you’ll see the result quite fast.

If your target language is English, LiveXP’s Personalized Path comes in handy for you. It is a step-by-step customized learning plan based on your level, goals, and interests. The system prepares the topic you need to cover in your private lessons with an English tutor and provides AI-powered self-study exercises in the app to consolidate your knowledge. This is the most personalized and complex approach to learning English for adults.

Can adults learn a new language?

Don’t let anyone or anything discourage you from learning a language. The truth is, you are likely very good at it. People often go from knowing nothing to becoming fluent in a year or two, and in my experience, adults can learn faster than children with the same amount of time. This fact is proven by scientists. The only thing that grown-ups need is a bit personalized and systematic approach to learning.

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