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This is a question about language learning for different ages, specifically people in the second quarter of their life versus someone in the fourth quarter of their life (assume average life span of 80 years, then age 20-40 is second quarter and age 60-80 is fourth quarter).

We have all heard that infants, toddlers, and young children in general have an "easier" time learning languages, but is there any practical difference between the language learning abilities of a 30 year old and a 70 year old? Under the same conditions, would a 30 year old learn faster than the 70 year old? What are the differences, and how can the 70 year old optimize their language learning ability? Do certain methods work better for older people in general?

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    Similar question that might help: languagelearning.stackexchange.com/questions/60/…, it's instead comparing children to adults rather than young adults with much older ones – Anthony Pham Jul 24 '18 at 23:57
  • Possibly, but I think comparing two adult groups is fundamentally different than comparing kids vs adults. – AML Jul 25 '18 at 1:30
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This answer is based on personal experience, so it's anecdotal and not based on scientific study.

My mother and me both started learning Polish in 1991. I was 30 years old, she was 68, both having comparable intellectual capacity.

Her learning of English and French had taken place decades ago, using methods far inferior to modern standards. So her thinking was always based on our native language, German. While being able to learn the words, she had a hard time with the different structure (grammar, phrases) of the new language. And her hearing was already impaired, so she had great difficulties distinguishing the phonems of the new language, and thus with the pronunciation.

If I try to generalize from that example:

  • The 70-year-old might need more time with pronunciation.
  • The 70-year-old might have more difficulties to get accustomed to grammar and phrases of the new language. But I think, personal language-learning experience might be more important than age here.
  • After a full life, a 70-year-old person might command a greater active or passive vocabulary that a "youngster". So if the new language isn't too distant from the already-known ones, the elder person might even have an advantage here.

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