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This topic is the subject of much discussion and there is no consensus among researchers and scholars. There is, however, a recent MIT study that indicates a specific age, a window of opportunity you should know about. Some studies have shown that adolescents and adults are better at learning a new language than children (except for pronunciation). The explanation is probably related to the fact that adults and adolescents already have a good knowledge of their first language.

ideal-age-second-language
Ideal Age Second Language


This knowledge of grammatical concepts of languages (what is a regular/irregular verb? And an adjective? And an adverb?) is used in the second language learning process.
Some language acquisition experts say that the sooner a child starts learning a second language, the better! Indeed, it seems to make sense that the earlier this process begins, the more time there will be to learn and the greater the progress (compared to someone who started later). In addition, it’s generally accepted knowledge that young children learn most things quickly!

However, there is also evidence that supports the idea that learning a second language can hinder the acquisition and consolidation of the mother tongue (if the mother tongue is not yet consolidated). There are several authors that speak of the disadvantages of this possibility, as this may “hinder total proficiency in both languages”.

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
So, what is the best age for a person to start learning a foreign language? According to the most recent MIT data, the answer is pre-adolescent age between 10 and 11 years. And the more motivated the child is to learn the new language, the more successful it will be!

Although the window of opportunity is 10/11 years old, teenagers still have good language skills up to 18 years old. This competence begins to be gradually and slowly lost from that age on. Also according to the recent MIT study, there are no significant differences between people who started this process from birth or in the aforementioned window of opportunity, and a decline after this age period is clear.

CONTROVERSIAL STUDY

Despite the universally established prestige of MIT, this study has been widely contested. To argue that it is only possible to achieve fluency equivalent to that of a native when the learning process of the second language takes place between 10 and 11 years is at least quite debatable.

Some investigators indicate the existence of documented cases that indicate the exact opposite. According to Professor Marilyn Vihman (University of York), there are many cases of people over the age of 20 who have learned languages and achieved absolute fluency (to the point of becoming spies). This researcher does not believe there is a critical age and a decline after that age.

Another researcher named Danijela Trenkic, also from the same university, points out that the MIT study focused only on the grammatical component. However, we all know cases of people communicating effectively in another language despite occasionally misusing grammar.

INSIST AND PERSIST

The reasons for a decline in language skills after age 18 are unclear. Some argue that this loss is due to the slower adaptation of the brain during the aging process and that it begins to happen as adulthood arrives. However, these MIT revelations should not cause adults who have only now decided to learn a second language to become discouraged. The truth is that regardless of age, adults are also perfectly capable of learning a language and achieving a good level of fluency. And it never hurts to remember the numerous physiological benefits this stimulation brings to the brain. For example, when we learn a new language, we are better protected from possible brain degeneration diseases (such as dementia).  That’s certainly good news for everyone!

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