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7 reasons why adults can learn languages just as well as children or adolescents

Would you love to start learning a new language?

Are you in doubt, whether this is still possible for adults?

Then you're not alone!

Children are like language sponges“, we’re always told.

That sounds fantastic: language learning must be quick, easy, and efficient for them, with new words and new structures of Grammar simply flying towards them.

Then, there are also sayings like: “Was Hänschen nicht lernt, lernt Hans nimmermer (=nicht mehr), i.e. What little Hans doesn’t learn, grown-up Hans won’t be able to learn anymore.

With these common perceptions in mind, it’s not surprising, that many adults don’t feel up to the task of starting to learn a new – possibly their first foreign – language.

They might say things like “My brain is just too old!” or "I've never been good at languages anyway!".

Maybe they will even try one of the offers that keep popping up on the internet like “learning a language in 10 or 14 days” …. Only to feel confirmed in their first assumption, when they see that it didn’t work out after all.

Fortunately, we know today that adults can learn languages just as good as children or adolescents - quite often, they've even got better results!

In this article, you will learn about the reasons for that.

1. Motivation

The most important thing at any age is motivation!

Motivation is key for learning a new language

We need goals.

We want to complete a project or even fulfill a mission.

It's the same with language learning.

Quite often, teenagers are not at all motivated to learn a language (or anything at all).

Some teenagers complete and leave school - and after 9 years of language study, they still don’t feel confident enough to have a conversation in that language.

But then … if these very same young people want to study abroad, they will learn the language of that country in no time - because they are motivated!

Perhaps adults do not learn quite as quickly as highly motivated young people.


if you are determined to learn German,

you will make quicker progress than the average teenager!

Find your personal goal:

For example:

  • a certain language level

  • being able to communicate more fluently

  • finding a job in Germany.

adults can learn a new language easily

Take notes:

What is your motivation?

What goals do you want to achieve?

2. Learning experience

As adults, we have the great advantage that we have already tried a variety of learning techniques. We’ve had to solve so many problems already!

Therefore we have developed strategies that work for us.

We have a feeling whether it will be more helpful for our language learning to watch a movie or if we should rather read something.

It goes without saying that we take notes - and know that they should be looked at again. (Even if there is not always enough time).

learning Geman

Adults have already found out what time of day they study best and are looking for a suitable learning environment.

If you have started a language course and you don't like it or you don't like the teacher - you can simply stop it and look for a one that is more suited to your needs:

  • Maybe you'd rather take an online course?

  • Would you prefer to be taught in a group or take private lessons?

Everything has its pros and cons... but unlike students at school, adults can pick and choose what pleases them.

3. Other language skills

Most people learn at least one foreign language during their school years. Later, they can build on these experiences. Of course, it’s easier to learn a related language.

For example, German and English are Germanic languages, so there are many related words and sentence structures:

  • Haus - house

  • Mann - man

  • Netz - net

  • Mein Name ist ... - My name is ...

Both languages are also influenced by Latin and Ancient Greek:

  • Information - information

  • Literatur - literature

  • Democratie - democracy

A child might not yet know and fully understand these words. To an adult, they are immediately clear and form an enormous wealth of passive vocabulary, i.e. words that he can immediately understand.

4. Knowledge of the world

We often understand things in a foreign language through context. A young woman, smiling and smelling at a bunch of flowers, will be likely to say something like, "Oh, these flowers smell lovely!"

Knowledge of the world helps us to understand a new language

If we open a foreign newspaper and see a text with the word ”Covid” and numbers in it, it will probably be about the current situation in the pandemic.

Places or historical dates also help us to understand foreign texts - even if we don't know all the words.

Children and young people are only just beginning to build up this knowledge.

5. Specialized texts

For the same reason, we can often understand texts from our field of study or work or about topics we are interested in, more easily than everyday language.

Charlotte recalls:

As a law student, I studied in Spain for one semester. I understood legal texts almost effortlessly - the daily newspaper gave me much bigger problems though.

The Internet is a great source here - just try it out and find texts about topics you are interested in!

6. Adults learn in a different way

When children come to a foreign country as immigrants, they will learn the language in no time, just by being at school and playing. They adapt, mimicking pronunciation and intonation.

Quite often they will sound like a native speaker very quickly.

Adults, on the other hand, make better progress at reading and writing. They will transfer skills from their first language and find similarities with the new one.

However, the comparison is also not entirely correct: adults rarely have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a language as deeply as a child.

Anne recalls:

My daughter was three years old when we came to Germany. She went to kindergarten and couldn't speak any German yet! But the teacher spoke slowly to her. She gave her the scissors and repeated several times: Schere - schneiden (scissors - cut). The other children did the same and taught her new words every day. I often thought that I would also learn German much faster that way!

children learning German

While the parents have to diligently crunch vocabulary, their children learn them directly in use - that's better than any full-time language course!

7. It depends on the right learning material

Get talking

While children don't get around speaking at school, many adults find it very hard to find someone to talk to.

Even if they take a language course, there can be a large number of students in the class. Quite often, there are a few students who constantly demand the teacher's attention or won't talk at all - so practicing dialogues doesn't really work.

Fortunately, there are other ways to practice speaking:

Finding a tandem partner, taking conversation classes, or even taking an online course, that provides opportunities to practice speaking while you're learning at your own pace.

In traditional language schools, a certain textbook has often been used for all courses for many years.

These books may be great - but sometimes they don't offer a wide variety of exercises or don't meet your personal preferences.

Plus: Today there are new ways of learning and more flexibility in online courses - so, why not use them?

If an online course sounds like a good option for you, check out my Beginners Course >>>

With the right study material

adults will learn German successfully!



The aging process affects the brain, psyche, and body, but factors such as motivation, type of input, educational standard, and the number of foreign languages already acquired are more important than age when learning a foreign language.

An 80-year-old who has always kept learning can learn better than a little motivated 30-year-old who has not learned anything since the age of 18.

By the way ....

Up to the age of three, the children acquire a new language in a similar way to their first language; they then grow up bilingually.

It is only from the age of six that we speak of children being able to learn a foreign language, that is, that they consciously deal with it.


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