Transparent Language Blog

Can Adults Learn a New Language? Posted by on Jun 27, 2012 in Archived Posts


Have you ever heard of Joseph Caspar Mezzofanti? He was an Italian cardinal who spoke almost 40 languages fluently when he passed away in 1849. How about you – do you know another language? Many adults I’ve spoken to have stated many reasons why they are not learning, or they only know one (their own native tongue). But it all comes down to one of two basic reasons:

1. It’s too hard (or impossible) to learn.
2. I’m too old.

Is It Really That Hard?

Believe it or not, there really is no hard to learn language. What makes learning difficult is the method employed and how it is presented. For example, in the past two weeks I have received 4 e-mails telling me I can learn a language in just 10 days! And they give me a link to a video that show the how and why their method can do this. Well, in my 30+ years of language training, I’ve known that it is impossible to learn a language in 10 days. In fact, Robert DeKeyser of the University of Maryland says “There is no method that can do that, the only way to learn a language is to make quite a bit of effort on a daily basis” [1].

Another reason why adults think languages are hard to learn is because that’s what they hear others say. So if someone they know and trust or a professor in languages says it’s hard or difficult….then it must be. Of course, I cannot say that a language is extremely easy to learn, that would be misleading. I do admit learning a language can take some time and effort, but it’s not as hard as it seems.

It’s up to you

But not all adults are created equal. The ideal method for learning is up to the individual. Motivation is also an important part of language learning.

Listening and learning from others, especially from native speakers is another important aspect. Make sure you’re speaking and listening to more than one person. This way you’re not imitating the accent of one person (who could have a speech impediment that you may inadvertently carry over into your own speech). You’re getting different ways of word sounds and you can judge how to best improve your own pronunciation.

Once you’ve learned a language, maintaining it is summed up in one simple word – practice. You need to keep it up, interact with native speakers as much as you can.

If you’ve been following this blog, you have received a wealth of language learning information. It may seem like it’s too overwhelming, thus cementing the fact languages are impossible to learn, but there are three pieces of advice that’s short and simple and easy to follow: 1) Listen, 2) Speak 3) Practice.

[1] How to Learn a Second Language –

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About the Author: Sean Young

Learning languages since 1978 and studying over 50 (achieving fluency in 10). Sean L. Young loves giving tips, advice and the secrets you need to learn a language successfully no matter what language you're learning. Currently studying Hindi and blogging his progress right here at Transparent Language -


  1. Bill Chapman:

    Which language(s) should adults be learning? Learn Spanish and you’re at a loss In Germany, learn French and you’re illiterate in Russia, learn Chinese and you can’t ask for an ice cream in Portugal. So which language should we be learning? I would respectfully suggest that we take another look at Esperanto, a relatively new language which is easy to learn and use.

    Of course, not everyone speaks Esperanto at the moment, but we have to start somewhere.

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