You’re 50 years old? You’re past it! You’re over the hill! There’s no way you can start learning a foreign language at 50+ years old…or is there? Never listen to anyone who tries to tell you that learning a language after 50 is either impossible or just too much of an uphill struggle. Those people have just never heard of some of the fantastic and innovative ways that older people can approach language learning.
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If you’re a “mature” learners and you want some ideas on how to get started and even thrive in a new language, then here are some ideas:
1. Work with a Tutor, and Focus on Small Talk First
By the time you’re in your 50s, you’re already a pretty worldly and knowledgeable person, and you more than likely know how to hold down a decent conversation. If that’s the case, then a great way to get started in a new language is to focus on that…conversation! More specifically, work with a tutor to develop your small talk in a new language. Ask them to teach you how to talk about the things that people in your target language talk about.
For instance, if you wanted to learn English like the British speak, then you might start with weather chat --- no country does that better than the UK. You could then work with your British tutor to talk about sports, and how to make small talk with friends in the pub. Alternatively, let’s say you’re looking to learn Chinese. The small talk in China is often focused on food, health, and well-being.
Why do we say focus on small talk? Well, it’s all about confidence. Getting the small talk right helps give you the shot of confidence you need to keep going and learn more in your new language. Young learners don’t always need that because they’re less afraid of making mistakes, but after 50 that does get harder. Nail the small talk and the rest will come.
2. Go Slow
When you’ve reached 50+ years old, no one else in the world should be making you feel pressured to work any faster than you feel comfortable with. Therefore, the best strategy for older learners is to work at whatever pace makes them feel most comfortable, even if that means just spending 30 minutes or less a day on learning, or just learning 1 new idiom, or 3 new single vocab words a day. If that works for you, then go for it.
Don’t forget that even when working slowly, 1 day turns into 7, which then quickly turns into 31, and soon enough you’re at 365. Even at the slow pace we just mentioned that’s potentially 365 idioms, and more than 1000+ vocabulary words in your first year. There’s nothing wrong with that, and your slower pace probably means you’ll retain that knowledge more effectively.
3. Explore Multimedia Channels
When you’re not working with your teacher, use your downtime to make use of any and all media channels you can to supplement your learning. This could include reading a foreign newspaper or magazine, listening to a podcast or radio show, watching a TV series, or something else. The beauty of these methods is that it ties in well with our previous point at taking things at your own pace.
When you’re free to browse the Internet, the news, or other media, you can go at a leisurely pace, just picking out what interests you, and what you think will add some value to your overall learning journey. There’s no need to be confined to a textbook or other fixed course material. Instead, just see where your browsing takes you. You might only spend 10-20 minutes a day reading or listening to these materials, but it’s all helping.
4. Find a Friend to Practice With
Finally, when you’re an older learner, you’ll always benefit from having a friend to practice with. It could be someone in your neighborhood you know speaks your target language, or someone you connect with online. Trying out things you’ve learned in class will help you retain the knowledge, but you’ll almost certainly pick up new things that you can take back and impress your tutor with, too.
It’s understandable for some older folks that they don’t always want to broadcast to everyone they know that they’re learning a new language. Not everyone shares Millennial and Gen Z’s endless need to tell the world everything they’re doing, eating, and thinking. A discrete and trusted friend to help you practice will help you keep your new hobby to yourself, giving you the space and time to work on it without feeling self-conscious.
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