Are you older than 10? It’s too late for you to be perfectly fluent in a foreign language.
Before you attempt to learn a new language as an adult, recognize the futility of your task. According to a new study published in Cognition, your journey to complete native-level fluency is almost insurmountable as an adult.
That’s because your chances of retaining mastery over a new language drop off dramatically after age 10, psychologists found.
Study: After adulthood, native-level fluency is nearly impossible
“Those who begin later literally run out of time before the sharp drop in learning rate at around 17-18 years of age,” the study said. “The analyses above all point to a grammar-learning ability that is preserved throughout childhood and declines rapidly in late adolescence.”
What do children have that adults lose? There is no one clear advantage, the psychologists believe, but many factors that add up to one big language barrier. Children are less afraid of making mistakes, more willing to experiment than adults. They may be more likely to grow up in immersive environments around the new language.
They may not be dealing with lifestyle changes that make focusing on language acquisition hard like college and new jobs. They may have “a lack of interference from a well-learned first language grammar-learning ability,” as the study put it. The possible explanations are endless.
But if you still want to pick up a new language, you can still attain conversational proficiency. Our brains are always learning. You may never reach the same proficiency level of native speakers who spoke it their whole life, but you can still attain enough fluency to get around.
For those of us starting to learn a new language later in life, the researchers recommend immersion as the best method.
“You’d be better off moving to a country as an adult and trying to learn a language than taking it all throughout school,” study co-author Joshua Hartshorne advised adults who wish to learn.