What Prevents Adults from Learning English?

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Is it possible to learn English in adulthood? What myths prevent us from learning foreign languages and how to achieve quick results? The answers are below!

The older you are, the more tools you can apply to achieve your goals. However, the greatest reason for unwillingness to learn English in adulthood is the next three mis-beliefs discovered by Lucy Adams, one of the British essay writers:

#1 Learning in Adulthood is Much More Complicated

 Children surpass adults only in two aspects:

  1. The ability to acquire the right accent. However, adults are quite capable of achieving the fluency of the native speaker. But even if an adult is more likely to speak with an accent, do not get too upset as it doesn’t prevent other people from understanding you.
  2. Children are free from defeatist thoughts. In other words, they treat learning as a natural process and quickly absorb new

Despite the two above disadvantages, adults can achieve better results through consciousness learning and focus on the process.

#2 Adults Should Learn Foreign Languages in the Same Way as Children Do

The child's brain is different so that one should not expect that children and adults will share the same teaching methods. It is not true. Alas, adults sometimes try to learn the language, abandoning all the strategies and experiences that have helped them to succeed. They are trying to master a foreign language naturally, just as they have mastered their native language. It's impossible. Such attempts inevitably lead to disappointment. The point is to rely on the accumulated cognitive experience and not to try to imitate the children.


#3 When Learning a Foreign Language, One Shouldn’t Use the Native Language

Some adult students believe that they should never translate from their native language to a foreign language. However, it deprives them of a free command of their native language. Although not all English phrases can be directly translated, there are many aspects that one can successfully borrow from any language!

For example, an adult native English speaker studying Portuguese would hardly notice that the Portuguese word "insidioso," which describes something gradually harming, resembles the English word "insidious." It's pointless to pretend that the knowledge of Portuguese is useless in this case.

Although sometimes the meaning does not match, it is very useful to look for common concepts, categories, and templates, and this is a great advantage of adult learners over children.

Unfortunately, any of these myths can prevent any adult – even with the highest motivation – from mastering English. A lot of research has been devoted to these incorrect statements, and the results in the field of cognitive science will be useful to all adults studying a foreign language, not just English!

Does it Really Take Twenty-One Days to Form a New Habit?

In 1960, the plastic surgeon Maxwell Moltz published a book called Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life. In it, he stated that a number of phenomena require twenty-one days to change (for example, "people must live in a new place for about three weeks to feel at home"). It is unclear how he received this magic number, but the subsequent studies have shown that the formation of a new habit does not take some fixed period. So focus on the quality rather than on the number of lessons!

Try to make English a significant part of your life. Some textbooks include stickers with words that can be glued to different objects. For example, if you learn Spanish, you can paste a sticker with the word "la cuchara" (a spoon) to the drawer of the kitchen table so that each time when you take a spoon, you will see the word associated with it.

Does the Delay Equal to a Failure?

Despite the best intentions, life always makes adjustments to our plans. You may find that you postponed foreign language classes for several days or even weeks. You may be upset, but that does not mean you should give up!
The formation of new habits is sometimes studied in the context of quitting smoking. The best strategy to predict whether a person will eventually quit smoking is to count the number of times he or she has been able to give up the habit for at least a few days or weeks.



If you find yourself return to the old habit, do not think that you will not be able to master it. Do not forget that it's easier to learn familiar words than from scratch! Delays don’t lead to a failure until you try!


Language Aspects

Although teachers usually try to correct all mistakes, they still get used to your speech style. The teacher knows your accent, vocabulary, as well as the most commonly used grammatical constructions and favourite topics for discussion. That’s why the teacher understands you much better than an unfamiliar native speaker. This phenomenon is called "language proficiency within the Institute." But why is there such a big difference between the use of language in the classroom and the real world? The answer can be found in a phenomenon called "a common platform."

The common platform is typical not only for studying foreign languages. In any conversation, the interlocutors take into account personal and situational factors that they will or will not have in common. In other words, when you are talking to someone, you always take into account things which, according to your opinion, the interlocutor knows and doesn’t know. And now think about how much more difficult is to control a platform with someone belonging to a different culture!

One way to increase the chances that you will be understood outside the class is to think about what you can have in common with the interlocutor. For example, you can start with greetings and courtesies to help the interlocutor get accustomed to your accent.


Create Memories

The size of our memory is determined by many factors, such as the level of intelligence (people with higher IQ show higher results in the tasks of memorising figures) and mood (people in chronic depression show lower results).

Another important factor is the age. The memory size grows in childhood and ceases to do it closer to 20. However, this s not such a big problem as it may seem at first glance. Adults have much more knowledge of the world than children so that they can apply the division into fragments much more effectively. Age can badly affect the number of memorised figures, but knowledge and experience help to compensate for memory impairment, giving meaning to these figures.

How can it be applied to learning? After listening, students are often asked to repeat it word-by-word. This is a tough task even for children, and with age, it becomes even more difficult. Even when people are asked to do this in their native language, they often fail. Native speakers paraphrase what they hear, preserving the meaning of the phrase, even if they do not use the same words. When foreign language learners try to repeat long passages word-by-word, they rather test their memory than develop their language skills. Adults learn better not by memorising by heart but integrating new concepts and material into the already existing cognitive structures!

Instead of the Conclusion

Remember the basic principle: positive information is processed more efficiently and is remembered better and longer than negative. The superiority of positive information over the negative was demonstrated in numerous studies, including those dealt with the memorisation of words, grammatical constructions, as well as the content of dialogues and texts.
Of course, it’s impossible to use only positively coloured words and sentences, but you can at least approach the process positively. Consider the next two sentences: a) "President is a woman;" b) "President is not a man." The first one will go easier because positive linguistic characteristics are easier to process. The same applies to listeners who will faster understand what you say.

I wish you best of luck in learning English!


Lucy Adams is an aspiring businesswoman and blogger. Most of all, she’s interested in covering the most intriguing topics of yours, whether they are about business, writing or literature. Share your best ideas with the blogger and get a high-quality guest blog in a week or so!

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