Being married to a Greek man has forced me to learn his language to better communicate with my in-laws. As a child or a teenager, though, I just wouldn’t have had the patience for it. From the seventh grade all the way into senior year, I spoke and studied French.
The Greek alphabet is completely different and has less letters than English. Speaking it requires a quick and conscientious effort. You can move from deep guttural sounds, to throatier pronunciations and through the teeth within one word. Several words can encompass up to 20 letters of the alphabet, or more! You must annunciate all vowels and none are “silent.” These are things I would have given up within 15 minutes as a minor.
We’re always told everything is better when you’re young. But this isn’t true. Learning a second language as an adult is actually more propitious than when you’re a child.
Decades of studies with varied and erroneous results claim it’s more difficult for adults to study a foreign language than children. But you don’t need a study to understand the basics of mentality, psychology and life experience between children and adults.
For instance, if the child’s first language is English, the romance languages (ie French, Italian and Spanish) are going to be easier. This is because of similarities to the English alphabet and sentence structure. Many words from the romance languages are in English, like Rendezvous (fr.), Spaghetti (it.) and Salsa (sp.). So words are easy to identify and learn. Being an adult has its advantages when it comes to more complicated languages like Greek, Japanese or Devanagari.
One of the biggest reasons why it’s better to learn a foreign language as an adult is simple: pure life experience. Adults have a larger vocabulary to draw from and learned to accept mistakes as a normal part of life.
Children lack understanding of the world. It may be easy for some to experience embarrassment when making a mistake. Children are also prone to recoiling into shyness due to humiliation. This can result in deep shame they have yet to learn to handle.
Adults do not care about this so much. They are more likely to allow mistakes to roll off and forget them fast.
Adults are also more capable of self-motivation and time-management planning. Most adults do not need to have an official class to command the discipline necessary to learn. If an adult wants to learn a new language, they will and will plan for it.
Children need a little coercion and, more often than not, necessitate an adult to guide them. This includes lesson plans, homework assignments and practice. Adults generally do not have to have someone hold their hand like this.
Logic and problem-solving are yet more advantages adults have over children. Children aren’t adept at rationality and often express frustration when troubles arise. Most adults learn their way past this.
This isn’t to say learning a foreign language can’t be just as frustrating to an adult as a child. But adults are more likely to handle frustration with maturity and grace.
There is a certain method of logic and reasoning to understand a language’s nuances. This includes things like sentence structure, voice, verb tense and conjugation.
No matter what your age, it’s recommended to learn another language. It instills critical thinking and increases memory. It can help develop word choice, gain a more thoughtful use of words and conveyance of meaning. So, it’s not a matter of children learning language better, it’s just adults have a different aptitude, which can be more beneficial.
If you think you can’t learn a new language because you’re too old, think again. A second language forces a use of your brain that helps the mind stay active and lively. This can stave off dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and many other age-related mental ailments.
Learning a new language can be a fun and exciting pursuit and the best thing for your cognitive well-being as an adult. You can’t go wrong and you won’t regret it.
Hunter Van Ry is an avid francophile and the owner of Frenchplanations, a French-learning blog. He enjoys traveling to French-speaking countries and teaching others easy ways to become conversational in French.