Age is just a number

I’m a little curious to see if I am alone as I often feel in this journey. I am nearly fifty and an おばあさん. My husband is Japanese and I’ve visited Japan four times so far. I am pushing myself to learn now because we are planning to move to Japan within the next couple years. I really feel like learning another language at my age is much harder than when I was younger.

Any other older students?


If you haven’t seen this thread already, a lot of users have given their ages here:

The average age is 27 but there are plenty of users in your age range, and older.


I am over 40. I do feel it’s more difficult to learn than if I was younger. The brain stops being so spongy. My only advice, which goes for any age, is that the speed at which you learn correlates to the amount of time you spend studying.


I’m 65 and I, too, feel that learning another language at my age is harder than it was when I was younger. For me, personally, the best thing to do is to not compare myself to younger people (including my younger self) and just go along at my own speed. Best of luck to you!


I’ve got a few years on you. 35 to be exact. I’m 85. Yeah, it might be a little more difficult to learn as you get older, but I haven’t been able to verify that. You have someone to ask and practice on, so that’s a real plus. Hang in there, it’s not as difficult as you envision.


I’m 52, and I’m not noticing that it’s any slower than before. But that may be because languages are my strength. Or maybe it’s because my life has required me to keep learning pretty steadily in many different ways (both academic and practical), so I’m fresher than I would be. Who knows?

Or maybe I’m much slower than I would have been, and I don’t even recognize the change? That’s a possibility, too.


I am so glad to find out that I’m not alone. I did have some exposure to foreign languages as a young child (science tells us that this exposure turns on the ability to pick up languages), but it was limited. Other than Engish, Japanese is the third language I’ve learned, but the one I have the most invested in. In less than nine months, I have completely learned hiragana, mostly learned katakana, and I’m almost done with level sixteen. All while also working on grammar. My husband helps me some, but doesn’t feel like he is qualified to teach me.


I’m 48 and like LaughingLiving, for me it wasn’t any harder than when I started Japanese in my mid-twenties, but like them I’ve always done well with language-learning in the past and have rarely not been studying/learning something my whole life.

I think it can seem harder because we don’t give it the same focus as when we were younger and defined ourselves as students.

Recent studies (that were mentioned in another thread months ago - sorry, don’t remember well enough to link to) have shown that mental plasticity does not degrade over time to the extent that have been previously thought, so learning shouldn’t be appreciably more difficult - don’t let anyone, including yourselves, get you down for being ‘older learners’! :blush:

I am excited for you dreamerpaula about your move to Japan - what a wonderful motivator!


I’m… on the opposite end of the spectrum, eheh. I see quite a few people on the forums saying they’re 30, 40, and older, but there’s not too many under 16 and I’m one of them.

I really don’t think language learning gets much harder once you start gaining a sense of awareness. In fact, it probably gets easier because some concepts are explained in a complicated manner (at least in terms of grammar).

Between the ages of 0 to 7 is when things seem to be the best, and obviously any WaniKani user would be passed that point. 8 to 12 is an awkward period in that the person isn’t really too aware of what they’re doing… they’re older than the supposed “language learning critical period”, but too young to understand grammar points or anything that would be taught to older students. It’s not impossible to learn a language during this period, but it’d probably require an immersive classroom environment.

For example, I grew up speaking some Cantonese but stopped being in a Cantonese environment after about age 3 or 4. Nowadays, I can’t say much other than “I need to go to the washroom” and “I want to eat” and incredibly basic things… can understand a tad more than I can speak though. From about age 5 to 9, I was in a Chinese school teaching Mandarin (about two hours per class, once a week), but my Mandarin sentence construction ability goes about as far as “I am (x)” (and this is something I ended up learning while messing with language learning apps a couple years ago…) - the only thing useful I’ve retained from then is being able to read pinyin. From ages 10 to the present, I ended up in a French immersion program. The first year of this program, all instruction was in French - in fact, English was pretty much only used during break/lunch. That was probably the year I learned the most French, and it certainly paid off because French is my most strong foreign language as of yet.

That’s just my take on things, though - take it as you will. Perseverance is key, and it applies to anyone regardless of age.


I just turned 40 myself, and recently a first time 父. Language learning is a muscle that you have to exercise to keep healthy. If you haven’t used it in a while, it’s probably all floppy. That just means you need to take things at your own pace and not worry how long it takes you compared to everyone else.

Develop accuracy, not speed. If you do something right slowly, pretty soon you’ll be able to do it right quickly. But if you do something wrong quickly, you’ll only get better at doing it wrong.

Best of luck! I know you’ll be successful.


I’m 44 and have long told myself that I suck at language learning but am having fun with Japanese so am happy to keep trucking and not worry about speed. I do know I’m faster at learning it than when I wasn’t learning it at all!


Interestingly, this is quite the opposite of what the founders of WK advise (c.f. Japanese Fluency is a Race to Make the Most Mistakes), but when I studied music, I did exactly what you wrote - I played tricky passages at a snail’s pace until I got them right, then added speed.


There, I would make a distinction between practice and performance.

When practicing, I try to take things slow and be sure to get it right. But performance is at speed, whether you’re “ready” or not.

So when I’m acquiring vocabulary, I’m happy to take an extra day, or two, or seven, in order to learn what I’m trying to learn. But I have to be comfortable with making mistakes, and making lots of them, when I actually apply my language learning in the real world.

Luckily conversation partners are not as picky as music listeners… or else they’d walk out on me way more often!


There are some articles that suggest that older language learners have the advantage of life experience over younger learners, and can use it to apply to the learning process. I think the counter point is that children are not expected to understand as much as adults. My greatest frustration with learning a new language is not being able to express myself right away.


Hi! I’m 33 and I’m starting to learn Japanese.
When I was a kid I had the opportunity of living abroad (Native Spanish speaker, learnt English and French), and I think it is faster to learn the basics with your kid brain :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
But you learn to perfect it later, when you read/speak/listen more complex things. My English got waaaay better at Uni, when a lot of the course materials could be found in English.

I do believe that age is just a number… as long as you find the time to dedicate to learning.
That has been my biggest challenge, finding time in between life, so more than the issue of age I thing it’s an issue of how well you can immerse yourself in what you are learning.

Anime has been a lot of help :smile:

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Psychologist chiming in – neural plasticity (ie, the ability for your brain to form new connections between neurons) does in fact decrease over the course of your life. My understanding (I don’t specialize in neuropsych) is that one of the main causes behind cognitive decline is the deterioration of fatty ‘white matter’ in your brain, which effectively decreases the speed of your neurons. The comforting aspect of this is that we don’t actually seem to be losing (many) neurons over the course of our lives – it’s just that they’re getting slower!

There are also some upsides of learning language as an adult.

  • Keeping your brain active like this might help protect against some age-related neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
  • Older learners tend to be more motivated and more disciplined than their teenage and adolescent counterparts, which can make them more effective learners.
  • And a last fun fact, should an adult learner experience a stroke which affects primary language output or vice versa, you’ll still have the other language! It turns out that languages learned in adulthood are handled by different regions of the brain, so if you lose your English for some reason, you’ll still have your Japanese which is pretty neat!

While learning may be a tad slower for older people, it’s definitely still a worthwhile endeavor, so keep on, おばあさん!


Hello. I’m thirty one in a week. Japaneese is third language to learn (native russian, then english and german). It took about two months to master hiragana and katakana (and some basic vocabulary, there is an app “Drops” – highly recommend). Then started to learn nihongo with teacher (by skype, Genki textbook and workbook). But the best practice was journey to Japan. And it was the moment I decided to continue learning. Sometimes it’s really hard because of some menthality differences and my age. But still I hope that learning new language is the best fitness for your brain)

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Well, it’s far too early for me to consider myself old enough to reply here, but I just wanted to say that I totally agree that age is just a number.
I believe that a person truly becomes old only when he starts saying to himself: “I’m old, it’s too late for me to do this…”
It’s never too late!
I rememter reading a story about a person, who was 90+ and yet he decided to go to school (the circumstances of his life up to that point had been preventing him to get any education).
Studying now might be harder than it was before, but it’s still possible.
So, best of luck to everyone who defies the stereopype of age and keeps learning things they want!
P. S. Near fifty, you say? It’s at least 20 years too early for you to call yourself おばあさん!


Like @LaughingLiving, I’m 52. I married my (Japanese) wife over 25 years ago, so I’ve had a lot of exposure to the language over the years, and I’ve been to Japan many times.

In my case, I’d say that I feel that if anything, it’s easier to learn Japanese at my current age than it was earlier in my life partly because of the wealth of online resources available now.

Maybe it’s harder to memorize as you get older, but I’m doing okay with WK so far. One of the biggest reasons why kids learn more effectively than adults is because real language acquisition comes when the desire to communicate is greater than the fear of looking foolish or saying the wrong thing. So plunge ahead, and even if your husband isn’t a great teacher per se, engage with him in Japanese as much as you can.


I’m in a similar situation but just 14 years earlier (both age and marriage wise). Every couple has a different dynamic. I’ve found “engaging as much as you can” does not work for us given that a spouse is not teacher. Of course I learn from her all the time but it becomes a real nuisance to use someone as a constant grammar testing ground or walking dictionary. Therefore, classes and conversation partners are my best testing grounds to make mistakes and improve until I interact with extended family for my practice.

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