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What is the best age to learn a language?

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 17:47
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
When you're in love! Jan 7

I think Andrew Dalby mentions this in passing in his book 'languages in Danger' - that in some tribal societies, young people move to a group speaking a different dialect or language when they marry.
That was my experience when I married a Dane. An earlier knowledge, though somewhat shaky, of German was a help, but in fact my German improved enormously when I went back to it through Danish rather than English.

Motivation is vital, and immersion in the language, on a par with the children, will make a big difference, then you can use both methods, the rule-based and 'picking it up as you go'. These reinforce each other with a conscious effort to coordinate them and learn the language.
The teacher-and-rule-based method may also help to correct pronunciation and accent.
It is true that adults may never acquire an entirely native accent, but they can go a long way in the right direction, so that they can talk naturally among native speakers without the foreign accent distracting from what they are talking about.

People sometimes accused the late Henrik, Prince Consort of Denmark of never really learning Danish. He spoke and wrote excellent Danish, but he never entirely lost his French accent.


neilmac
Vanda Nissen
Joanna Posylek
Ph_B
 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:47
Spanish to English
+ ...
The younger the better Jan 7

Or so I concluded when I did the Dip. TEFLA.
Nevertheless, there is still some discussion around the subject, which is well documented. I googled "the younger the better in second language acquisition" and several relevant sites appeared...


http://www.helendoron.com/learning-a-second-language-the-younger-the-better/


Recep Kurt
Angie Garbarino
B D Finch
Paul Malone
 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 16:47
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
There's nothing like total immersion Jan 7

It’s best to start learning languages at an early age. I started speaking French at 5 in a French Kindergarten (”École Française de Lisbonne”), but in my opinion there’s nothing like total immersion: that’s what happened to me when I moved to Belgium in 1985 to work and soon realized how my everyday vocabulary was deficient and small things like going to the grocery store or the butcher shop were not as easy as I thought they would be…

enrfer
neilmac
Christine Andersen
B D Finch
Ph_B
 

enrfer
Norway
Local time: 17:47
Member (2017)
English to Norwegian
+ ...
there’s nothing like total immersion Jan 7

Well, I wouldn't rule it out completely. But it would demand that you learn two languages early (before 10?). Nowadays that isn't that uncommon. I did it with Norwegian and Spanish. But then, you need to evolve and maintain both - and that is the tricky part.

In the end, I can write any style and about nearly any subject in Norwegian, while I have trouble with basic orthography in Spanish....


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:47
Member (2008)
Italian to English
at which Jan 8

In my experience of children learning languages, the best age AT WHICH TO LEARN A LANGUAGE is from about 5 up to adolescence. I've watched American families living in Italy (academics on overseas postings) who brought their families with them and put them into Italian schools (which BTW they say are far better than American schools). The kids immediately struck up friendships - as kids do - with the Italian pupils and were absolutely fluent in Italian, which (since they were in Italy) was their first language for everyday purposes. At home they spoke English and had a lot of work to do helping their parents, for whom it was a real struggle to learn Italian.

As to why that is: in those particular families I think the parents had absorbed a whole complex series of preconceptions about Italians that they picked up in America and which made it very difficult for them to just "be Italian" as the children did. Children in the 5-15 age range don't have prejudices, which makes it really easy for them to "be different". I don't think they even need any lessons; they just slip easily into the "different skin". But now that they're all back in the US I don't know if they lost their Italian as quickly as they picked it up.

I think it's probably very difficult to learn a language unless you're living in the country where it is spoken. I've tried to learn Spanish in the UK but I gave up. I would need to be in Spain. Same thing with Brazilian Portuguese. Having Brazilian friends and listening to them talk isn't enough. I would need to be in Brazil.

As an adult, it somehow becomes much more difficult. But if there's a "need to know" factor, you can still learn. I only began speaking Italian after I moved to Italy and needed to eat (so I had to buy groceries....in Italian!)

[Edited at 2019-01-09 12:10 GMT]


Liviu-Lee Roth
Fiona Grace Peterson
Ph_B
 

Daniel Frisano
Switzerland
Local time: 17:47
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
40+ Jan 8

After full maturity, with an experienced and well-trained mind.

I taught myself German in my early- to mid-forties, now in the process of learning Czech having just hit the half-century mark, can't wait to be retired or at least half-retired so I can give a shot at something new.

Of course you need to set up your life so that you can set aside at least a couple of hours every single day for study/practice, and that can be complicated in the 20-60 age bracket.

AND you need a mind that is hungry for knowledge and is able to keep out the endless crap that otherwise will keep piling up during adulthood - not that easy either...

[Edited at 2019-01-09 04:29 GMT]


 

Manuel Bas y Mansilla
Netherlands
English to Spanish
5-12 years old. Jan 9

While it's not my branch of linguistic studies, language acquisition is considered to have a critical period for development between 5-12 years old. It's certainly a matter of discussion, but even among different fields, there seems to be an agreement that languages learnt after puberty simply don't share the same status as those learnt during the critical period.
I'm not a neurolinguist either, but second languages learnt after puberty become centralized in different areas of the brain than your native language (still in Brocca's though). This doesn't necessarilly happen if you learn it during the critical period.

[Edited at 2019-01-09 00:18 GMT]


Kristin Maverick
 

Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Depends on your goals Jan 10

If your goal is to sound and feel a language like a native speaker, you will need to be consistently exposed to that language at very early age (2-6 years). It can eventually become your target language.

Now, if you fell in love with a language in your 40s, you can still learn that language, and eventually it could become your source language.

Just be realistic; kids use 100% of their available time to master a language. We, adults, have much less time (work, family, social life, etc.). In other words, unless you are retired or have any other fixed income, you will only be able to dedicate 1 or 2 hours a day (at best) to foreign language learning. Well, that’s not enough.

Most likely, a much better option would be (for adults) to perfect the knowledge of the languages you already speak (including your mother tongue). There is just not enough time to take on a new language when you are in your 40s.

In other words, read a lot in the languages you already speak, read all you can, and then read again. When you have spare time, just read quality literature, papers, etc. This, and only this, will set you apart from the messes of 24 language speakers (I too can say "hello" in Chinese).


[Edited at 2019-01-10 11:55 GMT]


Shehzad Kausar
Sumin Yu
 

Shehzad Kausar
Pakistan
New user
English to Urdu
+ ...
The earlier the better Jan 10

Hello,
My native language is Urdu and Punjabi, i learned English in school from Pakistani teachers. when i was 27years old, i started learning Chinese language. so far i have learned about three years of Chinese, as for daily use its ok. but there is a lot to learn. As to pronunciation, although my Chinese friends say that sometimes its hard to guess if you are Pakistani or Chinese, it still has a touch of accent, thats hard to get rid of, but as to speaking in daily life its ok. In my opinion, the earlier one starts to learn a new language the better he will catch the accent. if one wants to become a foreign language teacher then the accent will matter, otherwise its nothing to be afraid of.


Manoj Chauhan
 

Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 10:47
German to English
+ ...
any age Jan 14

Why not?icon_smile.gif

 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:47
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Actually... Jan 14

Maxi Schwarz wrote:

Why not?icon_smile.gif


Actually, the original question left me puzzled: "What is the best age to learn a language?"

I've never heard of an age learning a language. An age is an abstract thing. How could you select an age as the best one, and teach it a language? Why would you want to?


 

Daniel Frisano
Switzerland
Local time: 17:47
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
to / at which to Jan 14

Tom in London wrote:

Actually, the original question left me puzzled: "What is the best age to learn a language?"



At first sight it smelled of poor wording, requiring "at which" before "to", then I remembered a parallel construction from the old Byrds song, taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes: "To everything (...) there is a season (...)".

A season to everything, an age to learn. Shall we give it a pass as a (perhaps involuntary) poetic licence?

[Edited at 2019-01-14 18:23 GMT]


 

Angie Garbarino  Identity Verified
Member (2003)
French to Italian
+ ...
Typical Italian mistake Jan 15

Tom in London wrote:


Actually, the original question left me puzzled: "What is the best age to learn a language?"

I've never heard of an age learning a language. An age is an abstract thing. How could you select an age as the best one, and teach it a language? Why would you want to?


In fact this is an article written by an Italian professor if you click the link above, you will also see the name (which is Italian).


 

Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Not a mistake at all Jan 15

It's perfectly acceptable and normal in English to say "What is the best age/time/day to do something" and miss out the "at which".

I'm just wondering what's the best way to demonstrate this.


Christine Andersen
 

Angie Garbarino  Identity Verified
Member (2003)
French to Italian
+ ...
Ah ok Jan 15

Chris S wrote:

It's perfectly acceptable and normal in English to say "What is the best age/time/day to do something" and miss out the "at which".

I'm just wondering what's the best way to demonstrate this.

Thanks for this


 
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