"I'm too old to learn Spanish" (Phooey!)

How many times have I heard this: "I'm too old to learn Spanish." Or, "Only kids' brains can absorb new languages." While I would like to just say "phooey!" and leave it at that, I've come to see that adults who say such things are in one of two groups: Traumatized Former Language Students, or Victims of Ageism.
There's a problem with language education in America: we don't do it. Why is it that the average person from any African national speaks four or five languages, with no language lab, little money at the local school, and no fancy computer apps? Because the people around them speak multiple languages: It's part of the culture. But also, sadly, it's because of a history of colonialism and the predominance of English in the world. French, Urdu, English, Patois. These folks switch between numerous linguistic codes with utter facility from an early age. It's a natural part of their culture. People in Africa (and Europe) expect multilingualism. But if you speak multiple languages here in America, you are pretty much considered a freak or a genius. Listen, language is to human beings as song is to birds: completely natural.
Were you a kid who took years of Spanish and still can't speak it? Were you in a classroom with thirty other kids and your speaking time every class was about...twenty seconds? Did the whole experience make you feel....stupid? This is unforgivable. But it's not you who should seek forgiveness, it's your school system. So the first thing you need to do is: leave your trauma behind. Let's just accept that your previous language learning experience wasn't very useful, and move on. One on one, or small group classes that are well-organized by a professional teacher work. You will learn.
Now, let's tackle ageism. Do you know how old my oldest student is? He's 87. That's right, 13 years short of a century. He started classes with me when he turned 80, a birthday gift from his wife. Now, we are reading Don Quijote together. The original one by Cervantes. He still complains about his Spanish, but let's face it: we discuss classic Spanish literature in Spanish for one hour every single week. Age is not an obstacle to learning language. 
A key strategy to help adults learn is to focus learning. I've taught over 500 nurses and lactation consultants enough Spanish to introduce themselves to new mothers, talk about pain, and give some good advice about latching, breastfeeding, and general baby health. Can they book a trip to Costa Rica in Spanish? No. Does it matter? Not so much. All of them are fluent in basic Spanish for breastfeeding consultation. So what's the lesson? Get fluent in something that interests you. Do you paint? Let's talk colors, brushes, artists. Do you like to run? Let's learn about the body, breathing, road safety. You get what I mean.
Focus on performance goals, not grammar, and hire a teacher who will help you pursue your interests in Spanish. Anyone can speak Spanish, no matter what age they are. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.


For people, any age, who want to learn a new language, try Duolingo, a completely free app that works on any device. There are many languages to choose from and can even choose multiple languages at the same time. I started learning Italian after surviving a hemorrhagic stroke; later I picked up Portuguese, and now I practice both, plus English and Spanish.
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