Learning a language -especially one as universally demanded as English- is something that is associated with early ages. But is it possible for adults to learn a foreign language starting from scratch? According to Ramón Parrondo, philologist, and head of Cambridge Assessment English’s network in Spain, «anyone who knows his or her own language has the potential to learn not just one, but several more. And at any time of life».
The reasons that lead adults to learn a new language are diverse. Some do it to be able to travel more independently, for some it is a work-related motivation, for others it is a social motivation. For some, it is a challenge that they have been postponing due to lack of time and that they take up again when they no longer have so many family obligations, and for others, the cultural dimension is more important.
Regardless of the motivations of each person, another incentive to learn a foreign language is the benefits for the brain of studying a new language at an adult age. The mind is exercised with this activity and, according to scientific studies, the density of neurons increases, there is more activity in certain regions of the brain and some research even suggests that studying a second language can delay the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia by more than four years.
«Learning a foreign language allows you to exercise your brain, to train its flexibility,» explains Giorgio Iemmolo, EF Education First’s Academic Director for Europe. «It’s like doing sport to maintain a healthy lifestyle. And that’s a huge advantage that we don’t often take into account.»
The main advantage for adults is that they are more motivated and have their goals clearer. Unlike young people, who tend to see studying as an obligation, adults at this age approach their learning as a voluntary decision. Their life and professional experience provides them another advantage.
The obstacles they face are fear or embarrassment, as many think they are too old to learn a new language. People with learning difficulties face additional problems, which they have to learn to cope with. To help them, the vital figure of the teacher, who will be more of a consultant or mentor than a traditional teacher, whose role is to advise the learners on the best way to learn and to keep them motivated.