Adults better than children at learning new language skills

Image 3It’s a widely-spread notion that children are much better than adults at picking up new languages, because their brains are easier to rewire, and they don’t have to learn consciously. This is only partially true. Adults are actually much better at learning and retaining language-related information than children, as a recent study has shown. 8-year-olds, 12-year-olds, and adults were shown a new rule in a made up language, although this rule was never stated explicitly. Adults were shown to have the best retention rate of this information following the original exposure.

If you think about it, children take years and years to master a language and be able to speak it at an adult level. Older children and adults can become conversational in a foreign language within a year, if they try hard enough. The difference is that kids don’t have to think about it so much. If an adult were put into the same situation as a child learning its first language (totally immersed, with multiple repetitions of new words, and no other major tasks to complete), they would develop new language skills much faster than children.

What’s the take-home message? You’re never too old! And sometimes, older is better!