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The best time to start to learn a new language was yesterday

Boy with a book to learn a new language

When is the best time to learn a new language? Yesterday. This answer may scare you, because we always have a lot to do in our lives, and learning new skills may not be one of the top priorities.

It is a well-known fact that children tend to learn everything faster and easily, so have your son or daughter to learn a new language is the best choice if you want them to become fluent.

However, did I ever say it is too late? Absolutely not! And I am not the only one to say that: numerous linguistic studies shows that it is always possible to learn a new language, but it may be harder for some reasons (and even easier for other kinds of skills).

Boy with a book to learn a new language

Let me tell you a story! The last time I took a language proficiency test I was sitting in the front row of the room, and right behind me there was an 80-year-old man, who spent the previous year studying to get a B1 certification in Chinese! That’s wonderful, isn’t it?

Why it’s yesterday?

Children are like sponges: they absorb everything when it comes to language

– Almost everyone

This belief is very common, and it is actually true, but we, as adults, can play some tricks to get some advantages. Children need to adapt to the surrounding environment, so they tend to catch everything they can, especially when it comes to learn a language. Children usually tend to learn immediately new expressions and vocabulary.

Disclaimer: This article discusses the learning process of a foreign language, that is a language acquired and used in specific situations. On the other hand, a second language is spoken in some contexts where the learner lives, so they have more linguistic inputs from that language.

Phonetics and intonation

A perfect pronunciation and intonation is very hard to get and it is the first mark that tells other people you are a foreigner. However, a perfect pronunciation and intonation can be acquired only until you are 8. After that age, sounding like a native speaker gets a lot harder, while for adults is almost (but not completely) impossible and you will have an accent.

Girl with headphones learning a new language: practicing listening
Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

Having an accent is not a bad thing! It represents your concern in learning a new language, and, honestly natives always appreciate people who are truly fascinated by their culture.

Vocabulary

Vocabulary is one of the most important part when it comes to learn a new language. In fact, you always need to know some words to express you opinion or to describe what you see when talking in another language.

Learning new words during childhood has some advantages, such as being able to immediately absorb and recall them in just a few tries. However, children can learn only a small amount of words per time. This comes easier when children explore the surrounding environment using that language.

Adults, on the other hand, can be extremely good in learning a lot of vocabulary, but they will need more time to master them, since the mother tongue can disturb the learning process. Moreover, adults are more rational than kids and can analyse texts and sentences to understand how and when to use new vocabulary. In addition to that, you can easily have access to different registers of a language and suit each situation perfectly.

And as an adult, you can also create patterns of similar words, which are words that differs by little and have complete different meanings. For example, Italian learners use them to remember when to use a double consonant.

Moreover, on my Instagram, I always share these kind of pictures to help my students to easily remember new vocabulary.

Learning a new language by contrast: the case of Sveglio vs svegliato in Italian
Sveglio and svegliato may have different meanings in Italian. I talked about it on my Instagram page

Grammar and syntax

Grammar and syntax are related to the ability of forming correct and comprehensible sentence, texts and expressions. When you learn a new language as a kid, you almost make no effort in learning them for three reasons:

  • Children’s brain is made to react and absorb everything that surrounds them;
  • When learning a foreign language, kids tend to learn simple structures, often linked to reality due to their limited knowledge about the world;
  • When children learn a new language, they sometimes acknowledge the world in that foreign language, helping them to create a direct link with reality, without using their mother tongue.

As an adult learning grammar form may be harder, because you will compare and try to reconnect them to your mother tongue. It is definitely harder, but not impossible, because, as with new lexicon, you are able to infer grammar and syntax from texts (both written and spoken).

Culture

Culture is definitely one of the easiest part of the learning process for adults. In fact, it consist of a mere studying process and it is frequently not taught to children, since they are typically exposed to their own culture little by little while they grow up.

Culture is definitely a part of the learning process that can be appreciated exclusively when you have grown up because you need to read a lot and yourself if the good manners you are used to can be transferred directly to other contexts.

For example, Italian hand gestures are a fundamental part when learning Italian. However, they are not that easy to master, so you need a lot of practice and spend a lot of time identifying and repeating them.

Italian hand gesture thumb up to learn a new language - gesti in italiano: mano con il pollice in su
Italian hand gesture are a fundamental part of our language

How much do you know about Italian culture?

If you are trying to learn Italian, you can browse this website and learn a lot about Italian culture. Just click on the button browse the cultural category!

Bonus: motivation

When you start to learn a new language, motivation is everything! Without motivation, your language lessons will simply a creative way of wasting time and money.

This is another important characteristic that makes it easier to learn a new language when you are grown up, because you can focus on the reason why you are spending so much effort and time mastering another language.

On the other hand, children usually learn a new language (please bear in mind that we are always talking about a foreign language, and not the language acquired in a specific context) because their parents want to.

Conclusion

In conclusion, is it impossible to learn a new language as an adult? Absolutely not. Is ti harder? Sometimes yes, but some aspects may be even easier.

The most important thing is that you will always try to do your best, especially when facing hard grammar topics.

Oh, and if you are learning Italian, you will always find Puntini sulle I right by your side!

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