This Is the Best Time to Start Language Learning


In a world increasingly connected and diverse and growingly inclusive, learning a second language feels like a necessity. In some cases, this is true. However, by the time we reach adulthood and realize we need to learn another language, this is often a difficult task. When should you start learning a new language for the best results?

The best time to start learning a second language is before the age of ten. A further decline in language learning ability also occurs after age 18. Language learning after this point is not impossible, but our ability to learn a second language like a native speaker is severely impaired.

Why do children learn languages easier? How can adults who want to learn a second language overcome missing the optimum learning time? For the answer to these questions, and everything else you need to know about the best time to start language learning, keep reading!

Why Do Children Learn Languages Better?

“Meet the 4-year old polyglot, Bella, from Moskow, who can speak up to 7 languages.”

Studies show that people under the age of 18 have a much higher success rate when it comes to learning and understanding a second language. Why exactly is this?

Unfortunately, this is a question of which science is still unsure. Something in our brain development after this age may make it harder to learn another language. It could also be that mastering our first language makes it difficult for us to adjust to a new language, or it might be the lack of time many adults have to devote to language learning.

The hard data tells us that this age group learns languages better, but we do not yet have a full explanation for this phenomenon. Simply know that if you want your child to be fluent in another language, you should start them before the age of ten!

How Much Better Do Children Learn Languages?

Since we do not know why exactly children learn languages better, we may now be asking ourselves how much better do children and teenagers learn languages? Under the age of 18 is the best time to learn a new language, but how much of a gap is there between someone who learned at this time and someone who learns later?

When we say that children under the age of 18 learn a language easier, we are referring to a specific aspect of language: grammar. Those over and under the age of 18 show the same ability when it comes to learning new vocabulary words, but grammar is a different story.

Those under the age of 18 show a better capability when it comes to grasping the rules and structure of a second language. Children under the age of ten demonstrate an even greater ability in this area.

It is because of this difficulty with grammar that we say that adults have a hard time learning to speak like a native speaker. Adults can easily learn just as many vocabulary words as a younger learner, but their ability to synthesize and comprehend sentences is hindered by a harder time with grammar.

Again this does not mean that people over the age of 18 cannot learn a new language. It simply means that most adult learners tend to learn a new language in a slightly different way. Adult language learners are more likely to develop a translation knowledge of the language in which they are mentally translating things into their first language rather than having full fluency.

Is It Possible to Make Your Brain’s Language Learning Stage Last Longer?

For everyone reading this article who is over the age of 18 you are likely wondering if there is any way to extend the language learning period. Can you exercise your brain in such a way that language and grammar become more accessible?

Everyone is different, and our brains are no exception. Some people may naturally find learning languages at any age easier than other people. However, in terms of extending your brain’s natural language learning period, that is simply not possible.

Remember that we do not know for certain what makes it easier for children and teenagers to learn a language. However, it is likely that it has something to do with brain development which is not exactly a process you have control over or which you can stop.

Our ability to learn languages has something to do with the way our brains are hardwired. Adults have a harder time learning a language not because they get dumber but rather because our brains have become more set. We have no control over this, but that does not mean you cannot learn a language after the age of 18! I’ve written more about the adult second language learning, here, too.

Is There An Age That Is Too Early to Learn a Second Language?

Most linguistic experts agree there is a critical window for language learning. Since before age 10 is the best time to learn a second language to develop native-like fluency, you may be wondering if there is too early a time to start learning another language. Will teaching your toddler another language confuse them?

You can start teaching your children another language as soon as you like. In fact, children can even learn a second language at the same time they learn their first. Learning a second language will not hinder your child from becoming competent in their first language at all.

What Is the Most Effective Way to Learn a Language?

If before the age of 18 is the best time to learn a new language, why do almost none of us succeed in learning a second language in high school when we are forced to take a class?

No matter what your age, language learning requires dedication, immersion, and practice. No one can learn a new language effectively without daily practice. The amount of language learning time most of us get in high school is simply not enough to make the language stick.

Thus, just because you let your six-year-old watch Dora the Explorer does not mean he/she will be speaking Spanish like a native speaker in the future. Children may find it easier to learn languages, but they still need a massive amount of exposure and practice for any learning to stick. School classes rarely provide this!

Getting Your Children Started with a Second Language

Because schools tend to provide less than adequate second language instruction, if you want your child to learn a second language, it will require some effort on your part. Getting them started before the age of ten, which is the best time, most of the time means introducing a language yourself rather than waiting on their school to do it.

Luckily there are a lot of language learning resources targeted towards young children. Resources like Muzzy BBC, Little Pim, and Gus on the Go provide online learning tools including apps and videos.

With the multitude of resources available, there is every reason to get your child started learning a language during a time that will be most advantageous to them.

Will Your Child Forget a Language Learned at an Early Age?

If you learn a new language during the best time, you should be set for life right? Unfortunately, even second languages learned before the age of ten are still susceptible to being forgotten. The most important thing when it comes to both learning and maintaining a language is practice!

If your toddler can speak Spanish by age 8, but never uses Spanish between the ages of 8 and 20, they will forget far more than they remember. The best time to learn a language is the best time to start learning a language. It is not the best time to learn a language and then quit.

If your child begins to learn a second language and then stops, they will not retain things better simply because they were learning at the best time. The best time for language learning describes the best time to learn new information and gain a better understanding. It does not mean that children will necessarily remember more than adult learners.  

Learning a New Language At Any Age is Now Easier

If you are over the age of 18, this article may feel discouraging. Maybe you still want to learn another language, but you cannot turn back time! Learning another language is still very much possible, even when not started at the ideal time.

Because of the growing interconnectivity of the world, learning a new language has never been more crucial. Diverse backgrounds and languages are blending in the world of business and more. Luckily even if you missed out on learning as a kid, learning a second language in today’s world is easier than ever because of the vast resources.

Opportunities exist around every corner, allowing you to learn and practice at your own pace. There are free and paid online lessons, apps, social media groups, books, tutors, immersion programs, clubs, and so much more! Even if you are over 18, you can still learn a new language if you put in the time and effort.

Applications to Help You Start Learning a Language Anytime

Since smartphones have taken the world by storm, apps can now do just about anything, including teaching you language. Choosing to begin learning a language now is a good idea with this particular resource at hand.

These apps are great for adult learners tackling a language after the ideal time or for teenage learners. Remember that finding a way to practice is the only way to ensure that your language learning will really stick, and classes in school do not give enough. Adding one of these apps as a supplement can help take your child to the next level at the best time.

Babel

Babel is an online app that offers guides on learning over ten different languages. The app tailors the lesson plan to your specific needs, first questioning you on why you want to learn the language of your choice and more.

The guides offer lessons that mimic school lessons by giving a blend of many aspects of learning, including: 

  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Audio
  • Chances to speak

If you have some time on your hands, giving this app is worth a shot. It functions well as an educational supplement.

Babel does cost to continue, however. With an initial subscription of around $13 per month, it can seem expensive. There are other plans available for an increased upfront cost but decreased monthly payment over time.

Rosetta Stone

Most people have heard of this popular app, which offers courses in over twenty different languages. This app is an award-winning one for its eclectic blend of:

  • Simplistic User Interface
  • Customizable Language Plans
  • Friendly Feature
  • Engaging Software
  • Peer Tools

This application gives you the ability to pick up wherever you left off. Therefore, no matter how busy you might be, it is easy to return to your lesson. Rosetta Stone tailors lessons to how you best learn as well, accommodating for learning styles.

But most of all, this application has a feature that connects you with other live users for communication. You can easily speak to someone else that is studying your language for tips and more. The app has many subscription prices available, starting at $36 for three months of usage.

Duolingo 

A super engaging, friendly app designed for adults and kids alike, Duolingo is a newer and more popularized app. The app is expanding in the languages it offers and still offers over twenty languages. Some of those languages are incredibly rare.

The interface is designed to be fully accommodating, allowing for ease of usage and the ability to pick up where you left off as well. This app is growing due to its comprehensive lesson plans and its affordable prices.

You can use Duolingo for free for up to two weeks before a subscription of $6.99 per month becomes activated.

Benefits of Learning a New Language

Why should you bother to struggle if you have missed your language learning prime? Why should parents take advantage of the time when their children learn languages easier to teach a second language? Learning a new language has several benefits that make it worthwhile for both children and adults. (I’ve addressed benefits of language learning in another article, too.)

The cognitive benefits of learning a new language are also well documented and known. People who learn another language show less risk for mental degeneration, a greater ability to focus, and better performance in school. However, because of the interconnectedness present in the world today, learning a new language is an enormous social benefit as well.

Whether you are seeking a new job or happen to simply enjoy traveling, learning a new language today will help you to communicate better and stay up to date in an increasingly interconnected world. Moreover, you will find it easier to:

  • Communicate with others
  • Become more culturally aware
  • More competitive on the job market

The time to understand a second language has never been more crucial. The integration of other languages in the workplace and in general is only increasing. Learning a new language will help you to communicate and be more understanding of others.

Does the Time You Learn a New Language Affect How Beneficial It Is?

Do you get more benefit from learning a language at a younger age as opposed to when you are older? There is not a direct connection between when you learn a language and its benefits, but learning a language during the ideal time makes you more likely to receive those benefits.

The chances of you becoming fluent are simply much higher when you start early with a language, and many of the social benefits of a second language can only truly be achieved with a degree of fluency. You cannot truly hold a conversation in another language or put another language on a job application without being fluent.

The cognitive benefits of learning a second language can be garnered when learning a language at any age. The effect may be more prominent the longer you study another language, but language learning is simply good for your brain no matter your age.

Is It Ever More Beneficial to Learn a Language Later in Life?

In terms of your proficiency in the language, it is always best to start learning a language early. However, there is another reason one may choose to learn a language, and for this reason, it is better to start later. Language learning is an excellent brain exercise.

People who know two languages have a lower risk of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. For adults, who have been out of school for a long time, learning a second language is a great way to exercise their mental faculties. As a way to keep your brain in shape, tackling a language at a later age is an effective method.

Final Talking Point on Best Time to Start Language Learning

The absolute best time to learn another language is before the age of 10. However, anytime before the age of 18 has a higher success rate for fluency than those who wait till they are older before starting a new language. No matter what time you start though, language learning is beneficial for all ages!

Sources:

https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/easiest-languages-for-english-speakers-to-learn

https://blog.busuu.com/most-spoken-languages-in-the-world/#:~:text=Well%2C%20roughly%206%2C500%20languages%20are,less%20widely%20spoken%20than%20others.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/at-what-age-does-our-ability-to-learn-a-new-language-like-a-native-speaker-disappear/

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

Recent Posts