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Poll: Can an adult studying a new language reach a proficiency level?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 06:43
SITE STAFF
Oct 25, 2010

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Can an adult studying a new language reach a proficiency level?".

This poll was originally submitted by Maria Amorim. View the poll results »



 

Patricia Charnet
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:43
English to French
yes Oct 25, 2010

seen a 60 year old lady whose mother tongue was English learning Russian and becoming fluent even to the point of translating Russian poetry into English poetry.

[Edited at 2010-10-25 08:15 GMT]


 

Michael Harris  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:43
Member (2006)
German to English
why not? Oct 25, 2010

not?

 

Alexander Kondorsky  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 16:43
English to Russian
+ ...
I answered yes, but Oct 25, 2010

I mean one can become a truly professional translator but very few can learn to speak foreign language as fluently as native speakers do.

 

John Cutler  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:43
Spanish to English
+ ...
Native vs. Proficiency v.2 Oct 25, 2010

Alexander Kondorsky wrote:

I mean one can become a truly professional translator but very few can learn to speak foreign language as fluently as native speakers do.


I would also distinguish between native level and a proficient level. I started learning Spanish when I was 24. Do I speak at a 100% native level? Probably not. Am I proficient? I would say so. I'm currently studying at a Spanish university and have no problem in writing my assignments in Spanish.


 

Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:43
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Many factors Oct 25, 2010

This is a complicated question!

First, as John pointed out, a person can be proficient but still not speak or write like a native. Proficient for what purpose? That's the key. Being able to navigate comfortably in another country, speak fluently with friends and relatives, and write with ease does not alone equate to full mastery. No matter how proficient they may be, I am still leery of people translating INTO a second language.

That said, I do think an adult who is exposed to a second language around the clock for a long time can become quite proficient/fluent. In my own case, while I had learned some Portuguese in college, I didn't start to become fluent until I married my monolingual Brazilian husband at the age of 36 and we spoke exclusively Portuguese at home. This kind of mastery can rarely be achieved through schooling alone.

It's also worth noting that some people have more of a knack for language than others - an innate characteristic that I don't think can be measured or predicted.






[Edited at 2010-10-25 09:17 GMT]


 

Sandra Petch
Local time: 15:43
French to English
+ ...
Of course Oct 25, 2010

With sufficient study, of course an adult can reach a level of proficiency, by which I mean understanding others and being understood. I learned Spanish as an adult at evening classes. I did find it harder than when I learned French at school and soaked up the language like a sponge. Possibly the demands of adult/working/family life make it more difficult to find time/put in the effort. And I hate to say it, but my memory doesn't seem as sharp as when I was a kid!

 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 15:43
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
If not, a lot of Proz.com members would not be here! Oct 25, 2010

I have a sister-in-law who keeps quoting some theory that after the age of 25 you are not so good at learning new things.

Not so good as what? Does it matter?

In all modesty, I was actually quite good at learning new things before I was 25, so if I have to make do with second best now, at grandmother age, I can live with it. icon_biggrin.gif

If my examination grades are anything to go by, then I peaked at about ten or twelve, declined due to illness for a while, picked up again in my twenties, and peaked quite nicely in my 50s when I really worked on my translation diploma. I learnt a lot of things along the way that did not give examination grades, including starting a new language at 27.

When I took my diploma, the rest of the class were native speakers of the ´other´ language, and I regard myself as functionally biligual.

I am far from unique. My parents learnt new languages as adults, and among their colleagues it was normal and necessary.

The fact that you may never become absolutely perfect is no excuse for not making an effort and taking it as far as you can.

As Muriel says, some people find it easier than others, and it IS always hard work, but many adults can also achieve excellent results.


 

Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 15:43
English to Russian
+ ...
Yes! Oct 25, 2010

From what I've seen, it's not only proficiency that is perfectly achievable, but a near-native level, too. However, it does require one not only to live in the country of the language, but also to live together with a native speaker. As one professor of linguistics said, languages are best transmitted sexually... There is no guarantee, of course, but chances are high.

 

Patricia Charnet
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:43
English to French
not necessarily Oct 25, 2010

Alexander Kondorsky wrote:

I mean one can become a truly professional translator but very few can learn to speak foreign language as fluently as native speakers do.


some people do succeed in it - at least the difference is very minimal


 

David Brown  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:43
Spanish to English
Can an adult studying a new language reach a proficiency level? Oct 25, 2010

I arrived in the city of Valencia, Spain, in summer 2000, only knowing a handful of Spanish words. I went to an Academy where only Spanish was allowed (even during coffee break). I immersed myself in the language, avoiding supermarkets and "Irish" pubs. I bought Spanish newspapers and tried to watch Spanish television. I only spoke English twice a week (to my sons who lived in England). I have now been a successful (measured by how much I now earn) Spanish to English translator for just over 8 years now. I was 56 years old when I came to Spain

 

Jenn Mercer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:43
Member (2009)
French to English
I sure hope so... Oct 25, 2010

I did not start studying French until I was 16 and I graduated with my BA in French at 36. Obviously, there was a long road between those two points, but I do not think I will ever stop studying French any more than I would stop studying English (my native language).

I do think it helps that I started studying Spanish at 7. When I started studying French, I had the advantage of its similarities with Spanish, but also the basic skill of learning the structure and vocabulary of a language.


 

Rebecca Garber  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:43
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
Note the difference between 'a person' and 'all people' Oct 25, 2010

A highly motivated person with the right skill set and helpful living circumstances will of course reach a level of proficiency or beyond.

The average person, or all people, who do not have access to this nexus of abilities/circumstances, might or might not.

And some people, even in the most positive of environments, will not learn a second language proficiently.

So are we asking about the hypothetical best case, worst case, or average?


 

Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:43
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Yes! Oct 25, 2010

It is always hard work to learn a language...regardless of one's age.
A baby needs years to learn its mother tongue. So do teenagers and adults when it comes to learning a foreign language.

The proficency level to be - or has been - reached greatly depends on the learner's abilities to keep studying and practicing regardless of how many set-backs one has to suffer. That there are/will be plenty of them.

To live in an environment that forces an individual to communicate only in that second language produces amazing results; and make it extremely difficult to distinguish between a native and a non-native speaker.

When we had to take English in school I was among the worst students - according to my teacher unable to ever even speak, let alone master English. The tide turned when I had months of time at my hands and developed a genuine interest in the Endlish (US) language. The rest is history.

Will I ever be perfect at it? I doubt it. But then again...who can rightfully claim to master a language to perfection?icon_smile.gif


 

Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:43
Member
Spanish to English
+ ...
In the following sense, yes Oct 25, 2010

http://europass.cedefop.europa.eu/LanguageSelfAssessmentGrid/en

 
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