Learning a New Language as an Adult Vs as a Child

Students in the Spanish courses for adults

The society we live in tends to celebrate youth, and this extends to their ability to learn. This does not help the rest, who are likely to feel that they are “too old” to learn a new skill or start a new career path.

As adults, we are often discouraged from learning another language because we think it is too late to start, and that young people are more successful in these endeavors.

While it is true that multilingualism is easier when young, it does not mean that it is impossible to achieve later in life. Adults also have the ability to become fluent conversationalists by applying useful tools and energy.

We review the main differences between adult and child learning as well as strategies that adults can employ to mitigate the difficulties of growing up.

Do not forget to check out our Spanish courses in Spain for adults.

Learning Behaviour

The level of effort that a child and an adult have to make is one of the main differences when learning a new language. On the one hand, children have more neuroplastic brains, i.e. brains that are better able to make new connections and adapt to change. What does this mean? Children do not learn a language, they acquire it through exposure to it. By nature, children are more adept at imitating sounds they hear and retaining information.

This characteristic does not necessarily mean that adult learning is worse. Adults, on the other hand, have a better understanding of rules, context and grammar, although many often take the liberty of circumventing these rules (which makes learning a new language less rigid and therefore takes longer as adults to develop real fluency). Adults have to work a little harder than children to avoid these bad habits. It is therefore important that, as adults, we adopt methods that compensate for the deficit in our passive cognitive abilities.

Adult language learners often want to take charge of their own education. Internal motivation and understanding the reason for learning a new language is very important. Adults usually prefer learning through tasks or experiences.

Tech tools

We are in the digital age, which helps us to benefit from many technologies that make life easier for all of us, including when it comes to learning a new language. Today, children have a certain advantage as they are the first generations of digital natives. They are introduced to technology from a very early age and are therefore much more comfortable with its use. What does this mean? Children do not have such a steep learning curve when it comes to using apps and devices to learn languages.

Adults also have access to this technology to achieve their language goals. While many learning apps for children focus on vocabulary and achieving goals, technology for adults focuses on enabling them to have conversations in other languages and build relationships and experiences in real life. Online tutorials provide exercises, but also connect users with native speakers.

Controlling your environment

Never underestimate the importance of the environment when learning a new language. One of the most effective ways to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. An excellent alternative is to travel to a Spanish-speaking country. These can be short-term visits, or there is also the alternative of taking the plunge and going to live and/or work abroad for a period of time. Obviously, this is a challenging option, but it also gives you a better understanding of the Spanish culture and language, something that children are unlikely to be able to achieve.


Whatever your age, learning a new language is a rewarding and enriching experience. Both children and adults benefit from some distinct advantages given their age. By understanding how we learn and what tools and environments are best for our learning, we can enjoy the benefits of mastering a new language.