Is language learning hopeless for adult students?

photo of adults learning
Should these folks just give up? No! Adults can learn a language too.

So you are an adult who wants to learn Mandarin Chinese. It probably seems like the cards are stacked against you. Lots of people think that it is hopeless for adults to become fluent in a second language. It is also hard to find the time to learn a language when you have a busy adult schedule. The good news is that while there is evidence that older learners will likely not become native-like speakers, they can still achieve high levels of fluency. There is plenty of hope for adult learners. Below are some tips for adult students who want to learn Mandarin Chinese.

Motivation counts for a lot

Most of my adult students lament the fact that they are not starting as young kids. Most people believe that young children have an easier time learning a second language. While young kids (i.e. children <8 years old) may have some advantages, they lack the motivation of adult students. Motivation drives students to sit down an study for hours, attend classes in their spare time, and seek out resources for language learning. Highly motivated students really can achieve high levels of proficiency. Many of my adult students feel self-conscious on their first day of class. What they don’t realize is that just being there already says a lot about them. Adult students who seek out Chinese classes are usually very motivated people who are high achievers in other areas of their lives. Slackers never make it in the door.

venn diagram of showing adults who learn Chinese
If you are in a Chinese language class, you probably already have many qualities that will help you in the learning process, such as drive, discipline and motivation.

Don’t try to speak right away

Highly motivated students often have a couple bad habits that don’t help them in the language learning process. They are so eager to learn that they usually want to speak right away. They fret over their pronunciation and want to “practice” to get it right as quickly as possible. To really have good pronunciation, learners need to listen. Only with lots of input (i.e. hearing something over and over again), can students really say something correctly. It may seem too “passive” to just sit there and listen, but this is exactly what students must do in order to improve.

It is a marathon, not a sprint

Language acquisition is a slow, ordered, and complex process. Learners simply cannot leap-frog the steps of language learning. Sometimes students can fake their way through complex interactions in Chinese, but they can’t fool their brains. Becoming proficient in Mandarin Chinese does not happen over night. Students need to be patient and accept that their progress will probably be slower than they’d like.

Interested in adult classes? NEISD organizes my adult group classes, more information is on their website:

Interested in private lessons? Use the contact page to get in touch.

Do you have a short-term need to learn some Chinese, for a business trip or vacation to China? China Boot Camp classes might be the best choice for you. More information is on the Mandarin Classes page.

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