The easy answer?
The more complicated answer?
Bear with me…
While science show that the earlier you start learning languages the ‘easier’ (I use that term lightly) it is. That doesn’t mean that you can’t learn a new language as an adult learner, even if you’re retired and just looking for a new hobby. You can. I’ll try to make it less scary for you.
Languages are loaded to the gills with something called, ‘COGNATES’, which are words that are very similar across the global board —
Факс (Russian) (Pronounced: faks)
Факс (Ukrainian) (Pronounced: faks)
Can you guess the English word?
Look there you just learned one word in eight languages. Want to make it nine?
Факс (Tajik) (Pronounced: faks)
But like I mentioned before word vomiting at you, cognates fill languages. You’d be surprised at the amount of them all around the world. Just like you’d be surprised at how many words you’d recognize if you started studying a new language.
The linguist in me forces me to make this point too –
Languages have families. Among these lingual families you’ll discover even more cognates. For instance –
English is a member of the GERMANIC family of languages, along with:
German (Bet you saw that one coming.)
Norwegian and more
Spanish is a member of the ROMANCE family, along with:
Romanian and others
A third group:
Russian is a member of the SLAVIC family, along with:
Belorussian and others
This lists aren’t comprehensive in the least, but they give you an idea. Also among these family clusters of languages you’ll find a wide, wide range of cognates. That means that once you learn one language of a family, the other related (same family) languages become easier to learn.
Another thing that makes languages easier to learn is the sheer volume of ‘borrowed words’. These are words rooted in one language but they become so frequent that other languages just adopt them. Fax is one of those words, but also Avant Garde.
This French phrase (word) is common among other languages. Sometimes the spelling changes a bit and maybe pronunciation but one look at the German avantgardistischen / Avantgarde and you recognize it. Psst – its Avante garde in Icelandic too!
I know that when you pick up your first foreign language book – it’s terrifying. Suddenly your regress back to kindergarten (a German word you already know by the way) when words in your primer looked like a bunch of chicken scratches. But it’s not. It wasn’t then, and learning Belorussian now isn’t either.
I can attest that…
1.) learning a new language as a child is a tad easier. I started studying German and Italian when I was 8 years old, some 27 (almost 28) years ago.
2.) learning a new language as an adult is still fun and completely doable. I was 25 years old when I started studying Russian and I’ve been speaking it for 10 (almost 11) years now.
3.) I will never stop learning/studying languages. I’ve recently started Ukrainian. And once you get into the groove of learning, you won’t want to stop ever either.
4.) for 27 years now I have been actively expanding my languages. When I was 10, having achieved a workable level of German and Italian already, I asked for and received a French dictionary and a handful of French language learning guides for Christmas that year. (Ironically, I still have my very first language books and still use them when I’m tutoring others that want to learn)
So, don’t be afraid. Pick a language and learn it for yourself. Pick one for you kids (it’s never too early to begin either) and arrange for them to learn it.
It doesn’t matter what language you choose, or why you choose it. I started Russian because I thought the Cyrillic alphabet was cool. German and Italian were chosen for me because my family hosted an exchange student from Switzerland when I was 8 and she brought the books with her from her village in Switzerland.
So, when IS the BEST TIME to learn?
NOW! RIGHT NOW!
I currently speak seven languages at workable and professional levels. Seven. And I challenge you to beat me. But you better hurry and get started because I’m working on my eighth now.
and, I’ll add I’m beginning Ukrainian now.
I also have a bit of a working knowledge of Spanish (it’s everywhere.), Norwegian (so much like Swedish it’s scary) and Dutch (very, very close to German) But for these languages I can only read and translate INTO English.
I know all of this seems impossible. I do. But when you consider that I have been learning languages for nearly 28 years (It’s true. I’m no spring chicken, but I’m not old yet.) it makes sense. I studied three different languages while I studied at the university. And I hold language certifications in two, and come June it’ll be three, languages.
Not too mention the more languages you learn/know, the easier learning new ones gets. This too is proven by science. Science also says that language learning helps ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s. In fact, it raises IQ levels in people.
Those last two alone should make you hop on down off your indecisive fence if you’re still sitting on it.
*throws down the gauntlet*
The challenge has been made.
See if you can meet me and then beat me…