Is it harder to learn a foreign language as you get older? | SpanishDict Answers
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10 Vote

I'm 53 years old and trying to learn spanish, and it seems so difficult. Is it harder at my age?

  • Posted Dec 25, 2009
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28 Answers

5 Vote

This is not a scientific response, but although it is easier to learn a new language as a child, there are some benefits to being a bit older. You are now old enough and wise enough to know the reasons why it is important to learn a second language. You will also be able to establish good study and learning habits and be able to apply yourself in a much more dedicated way.

Please don't be discouraged. Even though it may seem frustrating to learn anything as we get older, you will never regret the decision. Learning a new language will help you in so many ways, including helping to keep your mind sharp.

Buena suerte smile

  • Nice answer. You're such an encourager. - Goyo Dec 26, 2009 flag
  • I agree :) - TheSilentHer Dec 26, 2009 flag
  • Good comment. Learning languages also improves memory. - saulele Jan 10, 2010 flag
  • Second language??? LOL!!! I am frustrated too, that is why I browsed for to this page, but this is such a ridiculous 'American' answer. I am having difficulties too, being 48, but second language??? I al ready know Dutch, English, French, German and Kore - MarcWe Apr 7, 2013 flag
4 Vote

I am 61 years old and learning español quickly! However, the most difficult task is SPEAKING. I find I can read fairly complex material (looking up vocab now and then ) and I can do written assignments well (b/c I have time to think!), and even understanding spoken español, if someone speaks clearly and a bit slowly, is coming along. However, SPEAKING requires that my entire mouth make sounds it really doesn't know how to or is able to make! It also takes me forever to put together a sentence orally, whereas I could do it in much less time in writing.

  • Ha ha, yes, you are right. The mouth does not like to cooperate. :) - webdunce Dec 25, 2009 flag
4 Vote

I'm 53 years old and trying to learn spanish, and it seems so difficult. Is it harder at my age?

Well, I'm 55 years old and also trying to learn Spanish, and yes, it is difficult. As others have said, it's not impossible. I started my Spanish studies the first week of June, 2008, I suppose that's about 18 months ago. I'm by no means fluent in Spanish, but I certainly can converse, albeit childlike.

I am not a language scholar like so many here seem to be. I've learned more about grammar while studying Spanish than I ever did during English class in school.

In some respects it is harder to learn when we get older, but that's due to lifestyle issues, such as work, family, etc. I read a study somewhere that basically debunked the theory that older people can't learn as well a young people. It's a matter of how much time you can immerse yourself into Spanish, how much you practice your newly learned words as well as practice your conversations in Spanish.

Think of it this way, how many years does it take a baby/young child to get to a level of being able to express their wants and needs? If you spent exactly the same amount of time as that child in a Spanish only environment you would learn at the same pace as the child. I know, it's hard to believe.

My 3 year old grandson hears me, and repeats just about everything I say. It's not long before he has figured out a way to use what he heard 'papa' saying in his own conversation. And he's doing this all the time, he's completely immersed in an English speaking world, so within a few years he will be able to converse very well and express just about any need or want (and he doesn't know a lick of grammar at this young age).

If you could immerse yourself in the same way, you would learn just as fast.

Lastly, learning Spanish has been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done, and at the same time the most frustrating thing I've ever done. I'm still learning, every day

However, since I've only been studying Spanish for 18 months, I am often amazed that I can speak the language, what a miracle for me. I've a long way to go, and I'll probably never master Spanish grammar. As older learners, we can only devote so much time to this quest, so it will take longer to learn, but we will get there.

3 Vote

I'm 53 years old and trying to learn spanish, and it seems so difficult. Is it harder at my age?

It may be, but so what if it is?

I'm 51, and I can tell you that all kinds of things are harder than they used to be but I do them anyway because I'm not done living my life yet.

I delved back into Spanish a year ago, after a 34 year absence and am quite enjoying it. I think that some of what I've learned during that time period may have actually made it easier.

I'm more patient and focused than I was when I was 16, and I really want to see this through, far more than I did then. I also have far greater resources to learn Spanish than I did then. (Such as this site, Spanish news sites, podcasts, Amazon.com, and others.)

So what I may possibly be lacking in brain power and memorization ability is likely offset by my greater character and resources.

So maybe it's easier. Or maybe it's harder. But either way, I'm doing it.

3 Vote

Interesting, at 32 years old I am a self taught musician that can read music and have been told to have great ears. What I've observed during my spanish studies is listening and repetition are keys to accelerating your comprehension and conversation. Try this, for anyone struggling, take one television show, any, preferably a kids program in spanish with caption, write down everything that's being said, study them, and listen to the same program every single day, then watch something else using the same technique for about two weeks, then return to the previous show and this time try and see if you can hear the words that are being said with out looking at your notes, slowly your brain and your ears will adjust the sound and words and you will begin to see improvements. When you go to sleep leave the television on a spanish network or radio and just listen even though you don't know the words, the key is your brain will get use to this new sound and you'll begin to capture the words, the key is your brain, you have to find a strategy, know yourself and your weakness, continue studying spanish grammar but you have to hear the words and the conjugations being used, it doesn't matter if you don't understand one word, just keep listening and within a few months you'll see improvements, the key is listening and most of all patience, we think faster than our brain, you have to understand that muscle, it's like lifting weights, DON'T TAKE ANY LONG BREAKS!!! LIKE ONE MONTH WITHOUT STUDYING MAYBE TWO DAYS OR THREE BUT YOU HAVE TO WORK THE BRAIN.

3 Vote

I initially started to learn Spanish in my mid thirties and did it for about three years gaining a good conversational level. I was always being told that I had a very good accent. I then abandoned the language, fool that I was, for some twenty six years. Since starting again, without any shadow of a doubt, it is harder at my current age. I only speak from a personal point of view. What is failing in my case is my recent memory. Word of the day, I read it and within fifteen minutes it is gone. This didn't happen thirty years ago. I recently read this explanation.

How does aging change the brain? When you're in your 20s, you begin to lose brain cells a few at a time. Your body also starts to make less of the chemicals your brain cells need to work. The older you are, the more these changes can affect your memory. Aging may affect memory by changing the way the brain stores information and by making it harder to recall stored information. Your short-term and remote memories aren't usually affected by aging. But your recent memory may be affected. For example, you may forget names of people you've met today or where you set your keys. These are normal changes.

I know in my case this is a fact. I play golf twice a week. I meet new members on the first tee and by the time we have played two holes their names have gone. I know this is not dementia since I can still recite word for word lesson three of my linguaphone course which I learnt in my mid thirties. This drawback, however, does not deter me from continuing my learning. I just have to repeat new words a number of times to commit them to my long term memory. By the way, I am sixty six years young.

  • What's difference between recent and short-term memory. I think you mean assocative memory. - BellaMargari Dec 26, 2009 flag
  • I have to dispute your hypothesis on aging. Recent research by the National Institute on Aging has disproved your comments. To read more go to: http://www.nih.gov/news/WordonHealth/oct99/story02.htm - Rolest Dec 26, 2009 flag
  • I said I speak from a personal point of view. You can dispute all you like but I find it harder to remember recent events. - Eddy Dec 26, 2009 flag
2 Vote

My opinion as to why people say that you can't learn a language after a certain age is, mostly, an excuse for why they aren't learning. Honestly, if you think about it, even for a very young child, it takes years to learn a language. The difference is not in the brain, but in that is it socially acceptable to make mistakes, ask questions, and to practice constantly making noises saying gibberish and saying whatever new word pops into their head.

And that is why you're learning to read and write but not talk. It's socially okay for you to read and write and listen. However you don't feel comfortable just talking. This is why I recomend chela.

  • I have no idea what chela is, but I agree with everything else you say here. - webdunce Dec 25, 2009 flag
  • beer -- it's Mexican slang - Yuppituna Dec 25, 2009 flag
2 Vote

Tengo sesenta y tres añitos y El Español se ha convertido en un parte imprescindible de mi vida cotidiana. He alcanzado un nivel avanzado. Quiero decir que puedo entender y decir casi todo lo que me de la gana y la gente me entenderán! Sin ofender, me siento orgulloso de esto. Admito que tengo mucho mas que aprender pero estoy listo y cuando tengo setenta y tres, imaginense!

2 Vote

I am 60 and have been studying Spanish since August/September of this year where I took an 8-week condensed course at the local college. I had 1 semester of Spanish I back in 1997, but had forgotten most of it. I am taking lessons each week for 4 hours with a retired high school Spanish teacher who now teaches from her home. I have the same problem as hallfrieda. Analytically, I can decifer Spanish, and I can write it fairly well, but when it comes to speaking or listening, I have problems. I suppose that August to December is not a long time, but I am anxious to learn the language. I have come to a conclusion of why it is so difficult. I study a lot of things, and don't have too much trouble learning things fairly easily. However, this is not the case with Spanish. I believe it is probably related to the way my mind assimilates information. Since it is a language, and I 'think' in English, I can't use my usual "English" logic metaprogram as a way to comprehend the new information. I basically, have to reprogram my way of thinking to understand the language. I have been working on some study techniques that seem to be working, but I am still having difficulties. As far as my age, I am of the opinion that if a person has been studying consistently like I have, age improves a person’s ability to learn. Why would this be? I believe it is because "the more a person learns, the more they are able to learn". The larger our schema, the easier it is to "draw from" divergent thoughts to help create the new information they are adding to their schema.

2 Vote

There is actually research that shows that it could be a myth that we learn languages better before a certain age. You are right that it is harder for us to speak it but that is mainly because we are more inhibited than children when it comes to speaking a new language and it is harder for us to speak without an accent. However we as adults have a better understanding of the mechanics of how our native language works and therefore it is easier for us to learn a new language. I am in my last semester of becoming a bilingual education teacher so I have spent the last 3 years of my life learning about this and the research that exists. Research also shows to become fully fluent in another language it takes about 7 years. We can become functional much much sooner however to become close to native fluent it will usually take around the 7 year mark according to research.

1 Vote

With the possible exception of the first 5 years, I don't think age really matters at all...the main thing will be how much time can you devote to learning it.

1 Vote

I'm 54, and I learned my first Spanish word in October.

I don't know whether it's harder at this age or not - I never tried to learn it when I was younger. The only thing I would say is that all of us, indeed any adult past the age of 25, is bound to have more trouble that a young person with listening and speaking, because our hearing register is less. This is why those teenage deterrent sound boxes work - an adult simply cannot hear sounds at those frequencies - which must mean that we miss some of the subtle nuances in speech that a three-year-old picks up.

At least, that's the excuse I use smile

1 Vote

I am 50 and have been learning Spanish since late August, including 4 weeks of immersion in Ecuador. I would say that I certainly learn more slowly than when I was younger, and that this is true of everything, not just language. The brain's ability to learn diminishes with age, but that is partially offset by accumulated knowledge. In my case, as is probably true with most people, my knowledge of my native language (English) comes more from listening and reading than from formally studying grammar. I understand most of the simple grammatical constructions in Spanish (although I still have numerous problems, with the subjunctive and prepositions in particular), but extending them to more complicated sequences of verbs is currently a sticking point. I think I will need to learn them the same way I did in English, namely by reading and hearing examples, rather than by studying the rules of grammar.

I agree that speaking is the hardest part, and my biggest advances in that area have come from drinking beer and trying to talk to people who speak no English. I know I am making a lot of mistakes, some of them quite humorous to the listeners, but I also know that I am going to make a lot of mistakes whenever I start, so I might as well do it as often as possible. The beer helps everyone involved deal with the process.

1 Vote

Great question and great answers. At 48 I endeavored to get serious about learning spanish and have been working with a tutor for about an hour a week, plus what I can do online, with tapes, books, radio, etc.

I believe being older and "wiser" brings some advantages to the learning process but I believe the difficuty lies in relearning how to approach a new language. 48 years of english is a lot, and I find I often get hung up on trying to fit spanish words, phrases, and concepts into the english mold. Speaking is the other challenge and I believe as we get older it does become a little harder to change our "sound-producing" abilities. However, these limits can be overcome with a bit more effort and desire.

Mi esposa y yo esperamos a visitar en Mexico el proximo febrero. Por eso yo necesito practiar mas y mas!

1 Vote

I think it is harder, only because you are to the speech patterns of one language for so long.

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