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Why Kids Learn Languages More Easily Than You Do

LEARNING A SECOND LANGUAGE IS TRICKY AT ANY age (and it only gets tougher the longer you wait to crack open that dusty French book). Now, in a new study, scientists have pinpointed the exact age at which your chances of reaching fluency in a second language seem to plummet: 10.

Jamie Ducharme

The study, published in the journal Cognition, found that it’s “nearly impossible” for language learners to reach native-level fluency if they start learning a second tongue after age 10. But that’s not because language skills start to go downhill. “It turns out you’re still learning fast,” says study co-author Joshua Hartshorne, an assistant professor of psychology at Boston College. “It’s just that you run out of time, because your ability to learn starts dropping at around 17 or 18 years old.” People who start a few years after age 10 may still become quite good at a language, the authors say, but they are unlikely to become fluent.

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May 28, 2018