You’re never too old to learn a new language. Yes, that includes the oft-called hardest language to learn – Chinese!
While you may think that picking up a language at a younger age gives you the advantage of a more pliable brain, you’re right – but that’s not an excuse to say you can’t master a new language once you enter adulthood. In fact, experts say that adults may be even better equipped to learn a new language. Let’s take a look at some of these arguments.
Children and adults learn differently
Children pick up their home language almost effortlessly, and if they are brought up in a bilingual home, they also pick up both languages with such natural ease. Scholars have tried to explain this with the ‘critical age period’ hypothesis, which is to say that at a certain age period when children are young, their brains are hardwired to learn language easily.
According to this theory, the language learning ability of a person dwindles as they reach their teen or adult years. However, there has been no biological evidence to confirm that this is true. Scholars have only found that children and adults use different parts of the brain to learn language. Children use the part of their brain associated with motor functions, while adults use the parts related to higher reasoning.
This means that the way children and adults learn language is different – although this doesn’t tell us anything about which way is better.
Adults may have some advantage
One common struggle with adult learners is getting the ‘right’ accent in the language they are learning. In this respect, it seems that children are better equipped to pick up pronunciation and intonation to make them sound native-like.
However, one thing that may give adults an advantage is that they have prior knowledge of one (or more) languages. Thus, they can use their existing knowledge to aid them in learning the new language. For example, adults’ understanding of grammar rules can help them pick up the grammar of their target language more systematically. Yet, the converse can also happen, where present language knowledge interferes with one’s language learning.
Environmental factors play a part
And it seems that external circumstances also play a part. Studies show that a big portion of why adults find it harder to learn a new language is due to reasons like having a busy schedule, or loss in interest. These are reasons exclusive to adults, which makes it seem like adults have it harder.
In contrast, children often have tireless encouragement from everyone around them, like their enthusiastic parents and zealous relatives. It’s also worthy to note that our expectations of children are far lower than we would expect from an adult, so a child’s small step in improvement can seem like leaps and bounds to us, while we would think that an adult learner needs to put in more work.
It’s not too late to learn Chinese
In summary, it seems like adults are not biologically disadvantaged to learn a new language. Instead, the biggest problems are circumstantial – which means you can work around them if you really wish to master a new language!
Having the time-management and motivation to pick up a new language like Chinese will do wonders for your language learning journey. There are also many Mandarin courses for adults you can find in Singapore that will assist you in becoming fluent. So, make no excuses, and start learning today!