Most people believe that children learn languages faster and more easily than adults, but a landmark study published in 2010 concluded that in fact, the opposite was true. “We show that when 8-year-olds, 12-year-olds and young adults were provided with an equivalent multi-session training experience in producing and judging an artificial morphological rule (AMR), adults were superior to children of both age groups and the 8-year-olds were the poorest learners in all task parameters including in those that were clearly implicit,” wrote researchers Sara Ferman and Avi Karni.
Though the study demonstrated that there were no inherent cognitive barriers to adults acquiring language as easily as children, there are still differences in how adults learn. Children, for example, tend to be less self-conscious and less concerned about making mistakes. To the extent that language learning is a matter of trial and error, repetition and reinforcement, those behaviors make it easier for kids to power through the low-level rote learning stage and engage in conversations without hesitation or inhibition.
Adults have a wider range of experience and a much larger framework of contexts – that is, more and deeper subject-matter interests – than children. Those experiences direct their learning toward particular goals and scenarios. Adults also approach learning more systematically, which can be an advantage in acquiring the kind of technical vocabulary and situational conversation skills that are required to speak, read and write a language in a professional setting.
To bring those advantages to bear, however, adults need to let go of their fears and plunge headlong into the language. The best strategy is to spend time in the native culture, so that learning the language goes hand in hand with learning customs, habits and non-verbal cues. However, that kind of immersion is not always practical. Fortunately we live in an era of media saturation. Music, movies and TV shows, videogames and written content in foreign languages are readily available. You can usually customize content on social media into different languages with just a click.
The bottom line is that adults looking to learn Business English to benefit themselves and their employers are likely to have a much easier time gaining competency and confidence than they expect. That’s especially true if the learning program is optimized for professionals, incorporating relevant and interesting subject matter as well as instructional design that’s been proven effective worldwide.
Taking the first step toward a new language is often the hardest part for adult learners, but it’s a path that opens the door to new opportunities. Explore the offerings on this site for more information about how to open that door for your organization and team.