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Research Suggests an Adult Language Learner Can outperform a Native speaker

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Research Suggests an Adult Language Learner Can outperform a Native speaker

July 20
20:39 2021
Research Suggests an Adult Language Learner Can outperform a Native speaker

If you were ever looking for a reason to learn a new language for work study or travel, new research into how the brain acquires new languages shows regardless of your age a new language is well within your reach!

A Large scale study involving more than 300,000 participants were invited to take part in an online study and it has shown some very surprising results. Specifically:

  1. Many Students who started learning after the age of 20 outperformed many native English speakers.
  2. If you want to put in the effort, it’s entirely possible to perform at a native level on an incredibly difficult test like this — thousands of people did just that.
  3. Studying a language for a year can make you quite fluent.


The study was compiled by
 Joshua K. Hartshornea, Joshua B. Tenenbauma, Steven Pinker from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston College & Harvard University released the results of a large research project to determine how Adults learn a second Language compared to Children and if there significant differences

Previous research had suggested People who learned a second language in childhood are difficult to distinguish from native speakers, whereas those who began in adulthood or later in life are often have an accent and obvious grammatical errors.

As noted by Patkowski researchers interested in critical periods focus on two interrelated yet distinct questions:

  1. How does learning ability change with age?
  2. How proficient can someone be if they began learning at a particular age?

Studies that compare children and adults exposed to comparable material in the lab or during the initial months of an immersion program show that adults perform better, not worse, than children.

In addition., it was found that native and non-native learners both require around 30 years to reach asymptotic performance, at least in immersion settings. Also, it was found that ultimate attainment — that is, the level of asymptotic performance — is fairly consistent for learners who begin prior to 10–12 years of age.

So Looking through the data, it’s quite clear that there is a statistical advantage to starting your learning earlier. However, looking more closely at the data for the students who started learning after the age of 20, there are a lot of late learners who outperformed many native English speakers.

Adults are actually better in many ways at learning a language up to a point of general fluency, but getting to where you can answer the most subtle of grammatical points with the accuracy of a native speaker takes a decade no matter how old you are when you start.

In fact many adults who started learning a language after 20 years old (or even later) did so well on this test should be encouraging. So if you want to put in the effort, it’s entirely possible to perform at a native level!

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