Learning a new language is very meaningful because it enables people to communicate with others growing up in another background and to understand their sense of values. However, it is also sometimes difficult and time-consuming. Many people quest for the easiest method to learn a new language; nevertheless, they usually regret not having studied it at early ages because they are obsessed with the idea of “the earlier you start, the better you learn” theory. Whereas most language learners think children are better at learning a new language, there are some studies which show the opposite theory. In other words, contrary to popular belief, adults are not so poor at learning a new language in that adults have mature linguistic ability and motivation to learn.
To begin with, adults’ brains have better capacity for understanding grammatical problems than children’s ones do. It is natural to think an adult’s brain is more improved than a child’s one because it has experienced more time. Experiencing longer time, what adults are good at is that comprehending relations among meanings and sensibility of grammar because their numeral cells involved in higher-order linguistic processes develop with their ages (Schleppegrell 1). Moreover, adults are more likely counting on long-term memory than short-time memory which is often used by younger language learners; and they can more easily remember vocabulary and structure of sentences in a new language (Schleppegrell 1). This is conspicuously a big advantage of adult language learners because the core of language is vocabulary and structure of sentence. Concerning vocabulary, if you know some words such as “I,” “you” and “love”—even if as a noun, not a verb—you will probably understand what the speaker means. In addition, adult language learners can remember the grammatical information relying on long-term memory, that is to say, they will not forget what they learned without any trouble. These advantages help adult language learners by letting them better language learners than children.
Furthermore, adults tend to have more motivation than children do. Often, children who learn a new language are made to study a new language by their parents and/or teachers. Studying a new language under compulsion makes learners’ motivation decline. Accordingly, this is the reason why people do not focus on learning a new language during their childhood. This neglect of study leads to a regret that “I should have studied that language more earnestly” when he or she became an adult. Meanwhile, most adult language learners typically begin to learn it by themselves. For instance, many middle-aged women are learning Korean because of the influence of the Korean Wave like Korean dramas. These learners of Korean are motivated by self-interest in Korean culture and a desire to know more about Korea. There are also many other reasons why adults can be motivated to learn languages. These include wanting to make new friends, communicating with other people more well, taking examination for employees, wanting to be superior to others at work, stimulating themselves and wanting new knowledge. Instructors should enhance adult language learners’ motivations and should not decrease them by providing ice-breaking atmosphere in the classroom and an appropriate level of difficulty at the lecture (Lieb 3). Therefore, adult language learners’ motivations would be the strong advantage in learning a new language unless their motivations are weakened by some barriers such as inappropriate environment.
However, there is certainly a group of people who insist that adults’ brains do not seem to have flexible ability to understand linguistic elements according to “critical period” hypothesis. The theory explains adult brain lose “cerebral plasticity” which is responsible for acquire a new language (Schleppegrell 1). However, it seems that they do not consider the amount of knowledge children have. Berry McLaughlin states “a child’s constructions are shorter and simpler, and vocabulary is smaller. Hence, although it appears that the child learns more quickly than the adult, research results typically indicate that adult and adolescent learners perform better.” Indeed, adults’ brains are not good at rapid learning, however, if they learn thoroughly, their abilities to understand a new language would be better than children’s ones. There is also evidence which claims that some companies make their employees apply to an examination of second language such as TOEIC. They regard this as compulsory task for adult learners, but nevertheless, it is sort of rare exception to language learning. Most adult learners begin to study a new language due to ambition as this article mentioned before.
In conclusion, adult language learners can acquire what they learned as effectively as children. Adult learners are good at acquiring vocabulary and structure of sentence thanks to mature neural cells and they would remember what they learned for a long time with using long-term memory. Additionally, they have adequate kinds of motivation such as will to make new friends, cognitive interest and ambition. These evidences definitely show that there is little difference in learning a new language between children and adults, and from some aspects, adult learners might even have superior abilities to children’s ones.
Schleppegrell, Mary. “The Older Language Learner.” ERIC. Published in September 1987. ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC. Accessed on 5 August.
Lieb, Stephen. “Principle of Adult Learning.” Faculty Development at Honolulu Community College. Published in autumn 1991. Honolulu Community College. Accessed on 5 August.
McLaughlin, Barry. “Myths and Misconceptions about Second Language Learning.” Center for Applied Linguistics. Published in December 2012. Center for Applied Linguistics. Accessed on 5 August.