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Old 30.04.2019, 20:43
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Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

Pamela Druckerman has an interesting article in the NY Times: Why It’s So Hard to Learn French in Middle Age
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Old 01.05.2019, 01:54
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

Interesting key sentence:
“Nothing seems to work as well as just speaking the language all the time,” Dr. Hartshorne said.
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Old 01.05.2019, 14:08
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

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Interesting key sentence:
“Nothing seems to work as well as just speaking the language all the time,” Dr. Hartshorne said.
The operative phrase is "all the time". Her problem is that:
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And though I live in France, I’m not immersed enough. I use French for work, but I speak lots of English too, including with my kids and husband. I don’t have an “école horizontale” — a romantic partner with whom I speak only French.
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Old 01.05.2019, 16:30
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

Yes. When we first moved to Switzerland, we made an exception only for speaking at home. Our aim was to conduct every interaction outside the home, with everyone, everywhere, in German. We put a kind of boycott on all media in English, even at home: no English-language reading, TV, radio or movies, no English clubs or events, no helping our work colleagues to practice their English, except when in exchange for a German week the following week.

I think that mind-set was an immense help and our progress would've been much slower had we not steered away from meeting others who spoke English. That way, we completely internalised the plain fact that English is not an official language here, which protected us from ever developing any sense of entitlement that anyone could/should assist us or provide services in English.

Of course, to start with we did have to resort to using English, but that happened less and less as our vocab grew.

I take the point about brain plasticity, but think that, at least for some, not getting ahead with learning a language can be to do with a sense that they really oughtn't to have to do so, at all.
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Old 01.05.2019, 16:45
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

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We put a kind of boycott on all media in English...
That would be torture for me, and my OH needs his dose of Car SOS to feed his inner mechanic geek.

My little tiny bit of OCD is that I have to know where everything is. I have to be able to visualise it's location rather than remember where it is. With learning German, I swear I can feel the neat lines of filing cabinets in my head being moved to dark recesses to make way for this new information. 'Weiss' has been misfiled a few times, and requires a few cross references, and don't even get me started on 'werden'. That word feels like it requires an entire filing cabinet all to itself.

I think it's more difficult to learn a new language as you get older because you have to bypass logic a lot of the time. Kids and younger people are more accepting of things being just the way they are.
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Old 01.05.2019, 17:46
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

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I think it's more difficult to learn a new language as you get older because you have to bypass logic a lot of the time. Kids and younger people are more accepting of things being just the way they are.
Plus the older we get the more we (tend) to fear making fools of ourselves. Kids dive straight in, no worries.
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Old 01.05.2019, 17:50
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

Laziness is the biggest culprit
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Old 01.05.2019, 20:24
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

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Plus the older we get the more we (tend) to fear making fools of ourselves. Kids dive straight in, no worries.
Agree. And, when it comes to languages, adults want to find logic, pattern, always question things, whereas kids mostly accept it and move on. I could write an entire article going into detail but adults will start questioning what I say...
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Old 01.05.2019, 22:23
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

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Plus the older we get the more we (tend) to fear making fools of ourselves. Kids dive straight in, no worries.
Perhaps that, too, is a matter of personality or cultural training. I find many things about myself less embarrassing now than I did twenty years ago.

Certainly, when aimng towards competence in running my own life (in my case, that definitely involved gaining a good command of German) I gladly risked making a fool of myself temporarily.

I do think that we all find different things make us blush.

When a new English learner manages to string together: "Hello. Wait. Look. Floor dirty your hat. Take now. I help. Here your hat." I think that's great communication even though poor sentence construction.

As I started to build little bridges like that in German, (and also did the grammar homework to get beyond that stage) I didn't feel I'd made a fool of myself, but rather experienced the thrill of a teensy success.
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Old 01.05.2019, 22:44
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

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Perhaps that, too, is a matter of personality or cultural training. I find many things about myself less embarrassing now than I did twenty years ago.

Certainly, when aimng towards competence in running my own life (in my case, that definitely involved gaining a good command of German) I gladly risked making a fool of myself temporarily.

I do think that we all find different things make us blush.

When a new English learner manages to string together: "Hello. Wait. Look. Floor dirty your hat. Take now. I help. Here your hat." I think that's great communication even though poor sentence construction.

As I started to build little bridges like that in German, (and also did the grammar homework to get beyond that stage) I didn't feel I'd made a fool of myself, but rather experienced the thrill of a teensy success.

I'm glad you can see the positive and your willingness to have a go is what will be shared by successful linguists, but you've missed my point: fear of failing, fear of getting it wrong, fear of being laughed at... can paralyse. Have seen it more times than I can count. It's why MFL take up in UK schools past the mandatory few years is not good. Kids are far less happy to speak French/German etc when they're 12 than they are at 6 so if you don't start til age 11... Not all of them, clearly, but enough. And that embarassment follows into adulthood. Being asked to read aloud in your native language can often (anecdote alert) generate a similar response. I've seen confident, competent, successful colleagues become shells of themselves when asked to read (part of) a novel to 30 kids. Same thing goes for learning languages , I feel.

Motivation is also a factor.
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Old 01.05.2019, 23:40
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

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Plus the older we get the more we (tend) to fear making fools of ourselves. Kids dive straight in, no worries.
I've made a total pillock of myself in a few languages now, from asking for a line of coke and two straws in the Vatican Square, to giving directions in German to - go straight along the street and turn right at the duck. It happens, and I've yet to beat the German guy who wanted 4 cappuccino but asked for 4 crash helmets in Italian.

I find that the grammar part finally sinks in about 4 weeks later than with my counterparts who are half my age. That's annoying and frustrating. I also find that in tests, I can score 100% on excercises that we studied over a month ago, but make a total hash of stuff we learned the previous week, which should in theory, be fresh in my mind.
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Old 02.05.2019, 03:32
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

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Pamela Druckerman has an interesting article in the NY Times: Why It’s So Hard to Learn French in Middle Age
I have read other opinion articles in the NYT by this author and I enjoy her writing style. I agree with some of the others that fear of making mistakes inhibits one from attaining fluency. I think that is why children adapt far better when it comes to language immersion. But I am still trying to "crack" Swiss German. I have much to learn but I have to say, the locals seem much friendlier to me and appreciate the effort.
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Old 02.05.2019, 08:00
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

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Laziness is the biggest culprit
It can be a factor in some cases but it’s unfair to say it’s the biggest. When I first came here I was lucky enough to be able la-di-da and take my time on intensive language courses for the first year which gave me a hell of a head start. After going straight into 100% employment I think I would have been hard pushed to throw the same kind of effort and motivation at learning a language.

I know plenty of people that came here and went straight into jobs which are very stressful, include travel, etc. and don’t find time to learn the local lingo. They already speak English as maybe a second or third language and find they can get by day-to-day with that here.
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Old 02.05.2019, 08:30
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

In Russian the words for ashtray (pepinitska) and pussy (Pipiska) are very similar......


I have asked several waitresses and waiters for that matter for pussy with bewildering looks......

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Old 02.05.2019, 08:39
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

The biggest barrier to learning French amongst the French, is usually the French themselves. This is rarely the case with e.g. German and Germans.
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Old 02.05.2019, 10:40
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

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I'm glad you can see the positive and your willingness to have a go is what will be shared by successful linguists, but you've missed my point: fear of failing, fear of getting it wrong, fear of being laughed at... can paralyse. Have seen it more times than I can count. It's why MFL take up in UK schools past the mandatory few years is not good. Kids are far less happy to speak French/German etc when they're 12 than they are at 6 so if you don't start til age 11...
Isn't that more a consequence of a general antagonistic view on anything and everything French?
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Old 02.05.2019, 11:18
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

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It can be a factor in some cases but it’s unfair to say it’s the biggest. When I first came here I was lucky enough to be able la-di-da and take my time on intensive language courses for the first year which gave me a hell of a head start. After going straight into 100% employment I think I would have been hard pushed to throw the same kind of effort and motivation at learning a language.

I know plenty of people that came here and went straight into jobs which are very stressful, include travel, etc. and don’t find time to learn the local lingo. They already speak English as maybe a second or third language and find they can get by day-to-day with that here.

I understand this perspective but only to a point since we all lead some sort of busy life - I just can't understand/accept rationalizations over failing to learn the local language even beyond 40 y.o.
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Old 02.05.2019, 11:25
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

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I understand this perspective but only to a point since we all lead some sort of busy life - I just can't understand/accept rationalizations over failing to learn the local language even beyond 40 y.o.
I agree, but I just was pointing out that classing it as "the biggest culprit" was perhaps a bit unfair.

Also, you find certain people who will ALWAYS say "Oh, I only speak a little bit of German/French" but then turn out to be pretty good at it when it comes to the crunch. As others have pointed out, as an adult you are mortified if you so much as use a wrong ending or article so you tend to shut up rather than speak up. This may come across as being "lazy" and not learning the language.

A lot of Swiss suffer from this with English. They tell you they only speak a little English then proceed to minutely dissect the details of a conversation in a perfect command of the language...
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Old 02.05.2019, 11:37
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

I was 23 when I moved to Greece. I worked about four hours a day, then spent every evening getting drunk with the local lads in the nearest ouzeri. My Greek, although a grammatical disaster, was fluent and comprehensible after less than a year. I can still dredge up random words in unexpected circumstances to this day.

I was already middle aged when I moved to Switzerland. I hadn't really intended to stay very long, because everything turned a bit shit when I arrived, so language learning was quite far down my priority list. Then I spent more than a decade being paid to speak English all day. Then I married an English speaker and we had three English speaking kids. For years, the only contact I ever had with German was at the checkout in Migros and with the doctor's receptionists.

If I hadn't ended up on the RAV, I'd never have done my B2 German course. My grammar is still dreadful, but I no longer care: I can speak enough to get by when I'm obliged to speak German. But I'd rather not. I don't have a social life, and on those rare occasions when I have to speak to someone in a social setting, I'd rather do it in English.

So, no: it's not laziness. It's time, it's confidence, it's contact with native speakers. Most of these are easy to obtain if you're young, single and fancy free, or if you're married into a local family, but for the rest of us old codgers, it's not so peachy.

I don't really care any more. I've got a bit of paper which says I can speak German, and that's good enough for me until they kick me out.
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Old 02.05.2019, 13:30
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Re: Why is it hard to learn a language as an adult?

Three things that really matter: 1) immersion, 2) immersion, and last but not least 3) immersion.

I learned six languages in school, among them 6 1/2 years of Latin classes, 5 hours per week. After graduating from high school (Matura, top grades) I wouldn't have been able to buy a ticket for the Circus Maximus in ancient Rome.

I learned four more languages as an adult, without formal classes, just by living with those people, and I'm better at those than most of the languages I learned in school. Currently working on #11, which is a bitch, not because of my age but because real immersion is almost impossible.
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