Published 26th October 2018
This is a question that is as old as the hills. It’s a question asked by learners, parents and teachers the world over. As TEFL teachers, the answer to the question of the best age to learn English is very important to the work we do in the classroom.
Or is it?
What is the best age to learn English: the research
When it comes to learning languages, research points to the theory of the younger, the better. Some believe that second language acquisition skills peak at around the ages of 6 or 7. Others believe second language acquisition is possible until puberty. Everyone agrees though that it’s best to learn a language as young as possible.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to learn a language as a teenager or adult. Rather, the brain changes so it becomes more difficult the older you get. This is because you utilise different strategies to learn languages when you are older. Children learn more naturally, through play and without conscious learning strategies.
Having said that, there are always students who are going to be better learners than others. This is not a matter of intelligence or capabilities, but rather of motivation, dedication and natural interests. If a student puts in the time and the effort, there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to learn English no matter their age.
What is the best age to learn English: Consequences for the EFL classroom
What does this mean for the EFL classroom? Quite a lot, actually.
If you are teaching Young Learners you are likely to see huge improvements in their language skills relatively quickly. You may be surprised at their ability to use English when they are still learning to speak their own language.
If you are teaching older students (especially adults) you will find that some students are better at learning than others. Some students will naturally be good language learners, and these are usually the ones who can already speak more than one language besides their first language and English. Others may struggle a lot.
Always bear in mind that it is harder to learn a language the older you get. Be patient with your older learners and make time to revise regularly. Repetition is key. You may also need to get creative in your teaching ideas to ensure they remain motivated to learn and interested in your lessons.
To answer the question: there is no best age to learn English. It may very well be easier when you are younger, but you are able to learn English at any age. What is more important than age are you learning strategies and exposure to the language. So make sure you utilise your younger learners’ natural advantage and don’t give up on your older students!