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Too old?


RyanLeE

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Hello, I'm 16 years old, and my dream is to visit China after I graduate. This brings up my question - am I too old to learn? I tried to start learning about a year ago but I was too busy, now I have a lot of time on my hands, just wondering if I'm wasting my time. Someone told me to master it you must learn it when you are very young.

Sincere thanks,

Ryan

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Hi there,

While many would claim that you've passed the "ideal age", you are most definitely not too old to learn a language. However, unless you plan to officially take a Chinese course that will give you academic credit and affect your GPA (and thus your future prospects), at your present age and stage of life, the value investing an inordinate amount of time into Chinese language study over, say physics, is questionable, as it would most likely take away from the time you spend on your core subjects. As I understand it, you'll have the same language learning capacity you have now for the next 7 or 8 years (into your early twenties) and quite possibly be in a better position to devote time and effort after graduation.

However, I would recommend that if you are serious, at this point, in your free time, begin to gradually familiarize yourself with the basics, without stressing over it. Then after you graduate take a summer program or test into a solidifying class in College about it after which, you could apply to do an exchange in a chinese speaking country.

There are a variety of resources on the internet to help you learn the basics. For example, you can begin reading about the tones, here

http://www.wku.edu/~shizhen.gao/Chinese101/pinyin/tones.htm

and then once you've read that, you can practice some and get a feel for it here:

http://www.pinyinpractice.com/tones.htm

You could also begin to slowly familiarize yourself with character components and once you have formed some knowledge about the language there are loads of games to play to help you learn chinese on the internet.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/chinese/games/

some can be found there

Also the podcasts at Chinesepod are usually humorous and you could listen to them as you drive from place to place around town instead of the radio...

that's my two cents anyway.

Good Luck!!

Don't let scientific studies interfere with your dreams. Never forget, for ages, scientific studies concluded the earth was flat and no one would be persuaded otherwise.

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So far I've never met a foreigner who got started on Chinese before they were eighteen (o wait I did, one), and many are doing fine, some even fantastic. You're most definitely not too old to learn.

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Oh my! Ryan, can you possibly have passed the ideal age for everything (except, perhaps, a few things...:wink: ) ??

After I retired I started learning Japanese at age 61, Chinese at 62, and at 65 am now trying to get to China to teach English so I can get more fluent in Chinese. Admittedly my retention is not what it was when I learned other languages in high school & college, but the more I review stuff the more it sticks with me.

The ideal age to learn languages is up to 12 years old, I think. If you become fluent in a language at that age, then it stays with you forever, as I know from experience with German. After that, you have to work a bit harder to pick up new things, but they will definitely take root. Take courage and have fun!

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You're never too old to learn languages, and definitely not with 16. Other than English, I learned all my foreign languages after 16, and only started learning Chinese seriously at 27.

One thing that really helps is learning pronunciation when you're young, as people seem to find it easier to pick up. Still, it's all learnable, especially if you have an ear for music.

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I was a late developer. At 24, I learned Dutch like children do, by just listening and absorbing. At your age, you should be able to learn any language "the natural way".

I took up Chinese at the (over)ripe age of 59. It takes more work now, but I hope that I will be reasonably comfortable with conversations in Chinese before I turn 70. At 65, translating is slow but not bad at all.

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The whole argument behind there being an "ideal" age for language learning refers to the argument that adults cannot possibly learn to speak a foreign language without an accent. Some linguists will argue that after a certain age, the window on developing a native accent closes.

In my experience, I have seen some older people (30s + ?) struggle to retain information, and struggle more when it comes to learning to produce and hear new sounds (Mandarin has many sounds not present in English), which is a requirement for attaining native-like fluency.

However, I'm against the idea that learners beyond the aforementioned "ideal" age cannot learn a language a) to native-level fluency and B) without a foreign accent.

All you have to do these days (in China) is leave your TV on long enough and you'll eventually run across some fluent foreigners speaking Mandarin. Yes, most of them have foreign accents, however the Chinese will comment themselves that some of them do indeed sound no different than other Chinese.

So, Ryan, to answer your question, no, you're not too old. Go for it and good luck!

Edited by kdavid
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I'm not so sure that having an accent is a problem. If you look at CCTV-4, you will find that most people, except the announcers, get sub-titled, presumably because they have heavy regional accents.

One of the main advantages of starting young, is that you will still have good high frequency hearing.

One of the big advantages of starting old is that your intelligence is better developed, and you are able to compensate for any weakening of the inbuilt language learning programming by using your ability to approach the problem systematically.

(I started learning Chinese seriously at 49. The father of a friend from Hong Kong moved to join his son in San Fransisco, when over 60, and apparently passed the English competency exams very quickly.)

Edited by davidj
Add another older learner.
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There was a German guy who started leaning at age 15, self-study and with tutor in Germany (alongside his normal studies which did not include Chinese). He won several competitions and eventually ended up doing a degree in Chinese in China and obtaining the highest grade on the HSK advanced plus becoming an interpreter just nine years later.

Tenacity and perseverance are just a few of the qualities he possessed. I guess most students of Chinese have these and it probably is not related to the student's age.

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16 is too old for learning Chinese as much as it's too old for having babies. when you are old (since 16 is considered to be old:mrgreen:) most of the learning process happens consciously rather than subconsciously. So you can learn anything you want but you have to use your brain more often(or maybe shut your brain off more often as too much thinking kills you:mrgreen:). This is what people usually don't do and then complain about getting old. BTW the creativity and fluidity of a child in the learning process is only a state of mind and older people can experience that state too if they stop wasting their time and concentrate. A child's brain is like an automatic gear while an adult's brain is like a manual gear. It's more complex but you can do more things if you know how to use it.

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I'm not so sure that having an accent is a problem.

And that comes from a Britt..... :mrgreen:

Seriously, it's unlikely that you learn Mandarin in a way that accent will be a problem. Maybe if you do full immersion in Hunan....

If you look at CCTV-4, you will find that most people, except the announcers, get sub-titled, presumably because they have heavy regional accents.

They have subtitles because only 60% of Chinese know Mandarin. Means 40% don't know it, and then there is a gray area of I don't know how big. Keep in mind that very very few Chinese speak Mandarin as their first language. Written language is also less ambiguous.

BTW, "too old" sounds like one of those lame excuses when people give up after trying for a day or two.

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The whole argument behind there being an "ideal" age for language learning refers to the argument that adults cannot possibly learn to speak a foreign language without an accent. Some linguists will argue that after a certain age, the window on developing a native accent closes.

Accent is not the only reason for the theory that it's easier to learn a language when you're young.

What is postulated is that children have some sort of innate mechanism to learn the grammar of any language they are sufficiently exposed to before, say, the onset of puberty.

This contrasts with all language courses that pretend that you can learn a language "the natural way", "like a child" etc. using their method.

As mentioned in the thread, adults, especially if having learned a number of languages at an early age, have acquired mechanisms and methods that compensate for the loss of the inborn ability.

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i started learning bits of chinese at 16/17 years old, but never seriously until my 20's, and even then it has been rather off and on until these last few years.

however, i think i can imitate different accents in chinese quite easily, and native chinese- such as a couple guys i recently met from nanjing- say i have no noticeable accent when i speak chinese.

its just a matter of highly sensitive hearing and imitating. some can pick up on it easier than others, but i think everyone can do it if they pay very close attention. its like imitating different accents in english. you imitate the way you hear those people speak a lot.

you can do the same very easily in another language, as long as your understanding of basic pronunciation in that language is strong.

the biggest problem for many learners is that they want to jump in and learn so many new words and how to say so much before they solidify proper pronunciation. so, even though they can speak a lot, they dont sound native and make lots of mistakes, even if minor.

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16 isnt too old. You just have to work much harder that's all...

I doubt the "need work harder" myth. In your school years you often learn stuff against your will or interest, or are simply unmotivated. As adult you can structure your own learning and can learn in a much more efficient way, presumed you can keep your motivation up.

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i doubt it too, cuz i'm well over 16 and i'm lazy as hell when it comes to studying. all i ever do is listen or read. thats it. i'd hardly call that studying, and i'm not exceptionally intelligent by any stretch, but when i go to china i speak comfortably with the natives, no problem. even did some interpretation work last time.

i think the "too old to learn well" myth is made up either by language teachers who cant explain why their adult students dont learn well, or by the adult language learner who is not motivated enough to spend the time and do the work, and gives up too early. when the real factor is not age, but motivation and the efficiency of the language learning strategy.

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I thought this question was ridiculous until I read the paper, "Lessons learned from fifty years of theory and practice in government language teaching" and now I am not so sure.

Clearly 16 is not too old for anything, but what about 40?

In the paper I have mentioned it states that for an English speaking person to learn a language such as Spanish it will take 600 class hours. (It does not state what the level obtained is, though). To attain an equivalent level in Chinese will take 2200 class hours. So if one imagines one takes an evening class of two hours a week for 40 weeks a year, it will take 7.5 years to learn Spanish and 27 years to learn Chinese. (In my case I am doing 1/2 hour of self-study most days of the week, does this equate to 2 hours of class???)

This means I will be nearly 70 years old before I obtain my goal and will be able to speak Chinese! So I should not only be concentrating on listening to tapes but I should check I am on low-fat diet and start doing more exercise. Learning Chinese is not only a question of study, but also a question of survival! :D

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johnmck, I'm around the same age, and it does seem to make a difference. Even though I'm in a weekly class, I suspect I'll need a tutor if I want to make progress in speaking.

Reading Chinese, however, is something with which one can definitely make progress through self-study.

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