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Thinking caps go great with gray hair: 4 tips on how to learn a new language after age 55

Anyone who loves a senior understands the importance of being informed on senior issues, and so do we. Our News You Can Use posts are meant to help seniors and their families as they learn and transition together through the physical and emotional changes brought on by aging.

With back to school season around the corner, our collective focus is shifting away from summer BBQs and vacations and back to learning and academics, making it the perfect time for all of us, young and old, to learn something new. And, if you’re over the age of 55, learning a language is a top-notch choice.

Why? Years ago, the common attitude toward learning a new language as an adult was that it was an uphill climb that became more strenuous with age. The Critical Period Hypothesis, as it’s known amongst linguists, argues that children are more successful than adults at mastering a second language, and, consequently, the older we are, the harder it will be to learn a language. Luckily, a string of more recent studies debunk the hypothesis and, to add icing to the second language cake, suggest that learning a second language as a senior can improve cognition and memory and combat dementia.

Now, armed with new, encouraging ideas on learning a new language, we can hit the books full of ambition. Here are 4 tips for learning a new language as a senior:

1) Use all of your senses
Have you ever read a text book cover to cover, but still struggled on a test? The same idea applies here: we tend to learn best when combining our senses. If you’re trying to learn a new language, that means incorporating it into your speech patterns, writing index cards, and listening to TV or radio broadcasts in your target language.

2) Practice, practice, practice
This tip, which hinges on common sense, is easier said than done, especially if you’re learning a language alone. So, before you take the second language plunge, you might want to invite a friend to be your learning buddy, or join a class at the local community college. And if you stumble through mistake after mistake in your practice sessions? No sweat. Like most things in life, making mistakes while learning a new language helps you learn.

3) Get real
Want to learn French? Great! Want to become fluent in French by the end of the week? … That’s a recipe for failure. Avoid disappointment by establishing a realistic timeline and setting small goals, like being able to read a French article in the newspaper without reaching for your translation dictionary.

4) Keep your head up!
It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re trying to learn something new. Have confidence in yourself and, when in doubt, refer to tip #2.

For more information on how to stay physically and emotionally engaged after retirement, visit