I speak 17 languages.

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Learning with Steve: Age and language learning


Do you think age has any influence on people’s ability to learn a language?

I think very young children, before the age of 10, probably have an advantage over adults. I think their brains are more flexible and they are little more open to new sounds and new ways of saying things. I think they have an easier time pronouncing a new language. On the other hand adults have more vocabulary in their own language which can help them acquire vocabulary in a new language.

Yes, but do you think with age our brains become less capable of learning new languages?

Definitely not. I am 67 and the last 10 years have been the most active language learning period of my life. I have learned Portuguese, Russian, Czech, Romanian and Korean to varying degrees of proficiency. I think we have to keep using our brains. That way they remain flexible or “plastic” as the neuroscientists call it.

Why have you tried to learn so many new languages? Do you feel that you are already as good as you can be in your other languages?

No, I would love to find the time to also work on improving my other languages. In some ways I am hesitant about adding new languages, since I would love to go back and work on my Chinese, Japanese, German, Swedish, etc.. To me, the attraction of new languages is that they give insights into other cultures, insights which otherwise would not be available to me. So I have to make up my mind on how to spend my time. However, to get back to your first question, my age is simply not a consideration. I expect to be learning languages for the next 20 years or longer.

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