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How old is too old to learn Japanese well enough to have meaningful conversations?

I am not even dreaming of learning any language fluently at my age however. In my opinion, 27 is generally too old to learn a language, or anything not related to your specialization for that matter, because your brain plasticity is non-existent at that point.

I spent 2 months learning hira/katakana and can barely read manga with furigana (don't understand meaning), and currently learn kanji with flashcards. However, my progress is extremely slow. I thought I made progress learning kana but after starting radical/kanji I came to the brutal realisation that my brain might be too old for such complexities, even though I work in CS/academia. Its funny how fast one peaks and goes past it without even realising.

Is it foolish at my age, 31, to tackle new language especially one as different from my native language (English) as Japanese? Assuming I manage to learn Japanese, I will already be too old to travel by the time I learn it, late 30s maybe even 40s, so is it worth it?

  • There are many success stories of people learning foreign languages at ages like 50, given a proper motivation to do so. So, it would be foolish to seek excuse for not doing it in your "age". You're 31! Most and best of your life is yet to come! – Ralf Kleberhoff Nov 12 '20 at 16:46
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I learnt Norwegian (and to lesser extent Danish) to good level within a couple of years and I am a bit over thirty. I had studied, but not learnt, Swedish earlier, and I did this while living in Denmark and Norway. My native language is Finnish, which is linguistically unrelated, but there are cultural ties and loan words. As such, it is certainly possible to learn a language while no longer a teenager.

I can do research, teaching and deal with everyday life, as well as read demanding books in Norwegian.

I am also currently learning French, with the primary goal being able to read (research articles in my field and then everything else, too). I am making definite progress.

One nice thing with language learning is that as long as you learn a little bit regularly and have a gradually increasing difficulty level, it will come. Maybe you will not get native pronunciation, but who cares? It is certainly possible to improve and learn a lot. You are not that old.

  • Glad to hear success stories like this, they make me forget harsh brutality of being on the 30's wrong side, even if temprorarily. Its not just aging against me but also family, short window of free time, societal norms and what not. – ImmortanJoe is censored and mu Aug 31 '20 at 21:07
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I am 40 and have been learning Modern Hebrew for three years. I taught myself the alphabet and diacritics from books and apps, started learning the actual language about two weeks later, and have been practicing nearly every day since mid-2017. I am already able to have conversations with native speakers. I feel I'm much better equipped now to learn than I was in my teens when I was learning my first L2. I have access to much better study techniques and already know what works (spaced repetition, concise charts, contextualized learning) and what doesn't work in my own learning process. I know what tenses are and how they usually work, and how certain language paradigms appear and how they can display unexpected behavior.

Anyone who tells you that 27 is too old for learning a language has no idea what they are talking about and can be safely disregarded.

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I’m closing in to half a century old. Started learning Japanese for fun last year. Took JLPT 5 after about 5 months of self learning using a few apps. Failed. I’m not sure I want to take it again. But I continued to learn using the apps till today.

Coincidentally, I went Osaka for holiday last year. (It was not the reason I started to learn the language. ) Hardly understood anything but it was fun nevertheless jumping into the deep end and immersing in the language.

My belief is if one has the motivation to learn, age is not a barrier.

I started with zero knowledge of Japanese. At the point of taking the JLPT5, I did not pass but was still able to answer some of the questions. Now I can read the Hiragana, Katakana and some Kanji. And I can type with the Japanese keyboard.

So, 頑張って!

Ps. My aim is to learn Korean, Hebrew, Arabic, Hindi in the next 20 years.

Update:

Came across this TEDTalk video that debunk the myth that ability to learn language decline with age. https://youtu.be/iBMfg4WkKL8

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I'd say it is only too late to learn Japanese if you're at the very end of your life, such as if you have a terminal illness or serious health condition and only have a few months left to live. Japanese is a notoriously tough language to learn, and it's unlikely you would reap many of the benefits of it only putting in a few months of study.

However, if you enjoy learning it for its own sake, you might want to learn it anyway, even in that situation.

At your age, 31, assuming you are healthy, you have plenty of time to learn it and access whatever benefits you want, such as watching media in Japanese, traveling to Japan, or interacting online with Japanese people.

You are definitely not too old to travel, but even if you do not, there are ample ways to use Japanese online without ever leaving your home. As technology improves, these opportunities will only increase. Presently, there is a ton of media, including anime, live action television, and various video broadcasts, easily available online. You can find and interact with native Japanese speakers on all sorts of social media.

There are also a ton of native Japanese speakers who wish to learn English, and who will eagerly accept a language partner so you can help each other to learn each others' languages.

Keep in mind too that even if you currently have a fast-paced, demanding job, and other obligations that eat up your vacation days, you may still have the opportunity to travel more later in life, such as if you later take an easier job, if you accumulate a lot of vacation time later in life, or when you retire.

Go ahead and learn Japanese if you want to!

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    Good answer, but what about decline in neuroplasticity ? It is common in late 20s but not necessarily considered health issue. Say, if it takes me 4 days to drill one kanji it would take me just two in my early 20s. – ImmortanJoe is censored and mu Sep 2 '20 at 21:21
  • Hi, could you add relevant experience (of learning a language while 30+) or references to reliable sources? It would improve the answer. – Tommi Sep 3 '20 at 12:55
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    Reduced neuroplasticity is not a life sentence. Adults over 27 have been known to learn languages, pick up musical instruments, change careers, recover from strokes- all things that depend on plasticity. Learning a language will be harder, yes. It will take longer. But it is still possible. – Tesserae Sep 28 '20 at 2:15
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The best time to learn additional languages is between the ages of 1 and 14. After that, all bets are off. Judging by YouTube videos, people need lots of encouragement to study a new language and that appears to be what you're looking for, so have at it! I am a retired software engineer and Russian is taking up that part of the brain previously reserved for programming languages. Pronunciation is a big deal, and I found a tutor online at preply.com to help with those issues that cannot be resolved solely by Google Translate and Reverso.

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