Science Says This Is The The Best Age To Learn A New Language

Despite the greater interconnectedness across the globe and the demand for languages across industries and government, encouraging the study of foreign languages is still not a national priority in the United States (via American Councils for International Education).

Compared to students in Europe, far fewer Americans study a foreign language, according to Pew Research Center. Data shows that only 20% of American primary and secondary students learned a foreign language in 2017, whereas a median of 92% of students in Europe learned a foreign language in 2016.

The reason for this disparity is most likely due to mandates across many European countries requiring students to formally study at least one foreign language. Pew Research Center reports that 20 European countries also require students to learn a second foreign language. While foreign language classes are offered in schools in the United States, there is no national mandate requiring formal foreign language education.

In 2017, data from American Councils for American Education revealed that only 20% of K-12 students in the 50 states plus the District of Columbia were formally studying a foreign language, the most popular being Spanish. The state with the highest number of students studying a foreign language was reported to be New Jersey, at 51%, with New Mexico at the other end of the spectrum, at 9%.

Can you ever be too old to learn a new language?

If you missed the boat to learn a new language when you were a student growing up, is it worth bothering to learn a new language in adulthood? According to Scientific American, a large linguistic study that surveyed roughly 670,000 people indicated that to gain the level of fluency of a native speaker, it is best to begin learning a new language by the age of 10, though the data showed that you can still become proficient at a new language through the age of 18. After 18, the ability to learn a foreign language is believed to decline due to the brain's next phase of development, social changes, and the further cementing of the primary language in one's daily life.

While it is likely easier for you to learn a foreign language when you are younger, there is no definitive data that indicates a specific age when learning a new language becomes more difficult. Findings from the survey also showed that it is more possible to become fluent at a later age if you are able to immerse yourself in the country where the native language is spoken, compared to learning it in the classroom.

Despite these findings, if you're older and want to learn a foreign language, don't let data deter you. It's never too late and learning a foreign language can only enhance your quality of life by opening up job opportunities, improving brain function, and broadening your worldview (via Rosetta Stone).