Young Learners vs. Adult Learners in Learning a Second Language

In the context of the enhancement of international cooperation, economic integration, and the labor market transformation, the importance of mastering a new language is significantly increasing. This is because it is a method of interaction between representatives of different nations and cultures. One of the requirements imposed by employers at the present stage is a candidate’s knowledge of at least one foreign language, which indicates the competitiveness of a hired workforce. The necessity to meet the social order contributes to a significant increase in the number of institutions of additional education. In which adults and young students can start to learn a second language “from scratch’ or perfect the existing language capabilities and abilities. It is a critical remark that the conditions of the modern world stimulate the study of foreign languages, which is why many people begin learning a second language in adulthood. At the same time, now the training in a second language is also available to children to fulfill the requirements of modern times of globalization. Thus, it is imperative to establish the effectiveness of second language learning for young people and adults.

Second Language Learning

A language reflects a country’s culture and the mentality of its inhabitants. A second language is any language that has been learned after the first or native one. It can be a specially learned language or another one that is mastered in a multilingual environment without dedicated instruction, such as English in predominantly Spanish-speaking Miami. When people learn a foreign language, they start to understand its speakers better and consider how to interact with people whose thinking and perception of the world are not the same as theirs. Studying a language necessarily includes learning about the history, geography, art, and traditions of the other country. This expands one’s horizons, increases flexibility, and enables a more expansive view of the world. While teaching a second language, new neural connections are created in the brain, the amount of gray matter grows, and memory and attention increase (Mitchell et al., 2019). The more languages a person learns, the faster and better they solve intellectual issues.

It is beneficial and essential to learn a second language and even more. Foreign language learning methods have evolved with society, and now individuals can master a foreign language quickly and efficiently. The learning of a second language can occur by the traditional method. This was one of the first forms of learning; initially, it essentially repeated the programs of studying “dead languages,” such as Latin, and ancient Greek, where virtually the entire educational process was reduced to reading and translation. The Enlighteners laid its foundations in the 18th century, and by the mid-20th century, this method was known as the grammar-translation approach (Mitchell et al., 2019). According to this method, the possession of the language is the memorization of a certain number of words and knowledge of grammar.

The learning process consists of the fact that the student always learns various grammatical schemes and increases their vocabulary. The traditional way of teaching foreign languages is somewhat outdated, it is considered difficult, and the outcome is obtained incredibly long. The primary disadvantage of the traditional approach is that it creates the ideal conditions for a language barrier because a person does not speak but combines words with the grammatical rules. However, despite all the disadvantages, the traditional method has advantages; it provides an opportunity to learn grammar at a high level. In addition, this approach is suitable for people with strongly developed logical thinking, who can perceive language as a combination of grammatical formulas. In the mid-50s, the traditional technique ceased to meet basic linguistic requirements (Mitchell et al., 2019). As a result, dozens of alternative methods covered the linguistic space. Nevertheless, although much has changed, the traditional methodology continues to exist successfully in the form of the modern lexico-grammatical process.

The modern lexical-grammatical technique focuses on teaching language as a system consisting of 4 main components: talking (speaking), listening (listening comprehension), reading, and writing. The focus is on parsing texts and writing essays, summaries, and dictations. In addition, students should learn the structure and logic of a foreign language to relate it to their native language and understand what their similarities and differences are (Mitchell et al., 2019). This is unrealistic without a serious study of grammar and the practice of two-way translation. The technique is recommended for those just beginning to learn a second language and those with a pronounced logical-mathematical mindset.

The second language is learned through the communicative method. The primary purpose of this technique is to teach a person to interact with other people in the language being studied, which involves all forms of interaction. The communicative method is suitable for most people and permits faster and more conscious learning of a foreign language. It should also be noted the method of immersion. According to this technique, it is possible to study a foreign language, becoming a different person, a native speaker for a period of training. When studying the language in this way, all the students choose names for themselves and invent biographies. This creates the illusion in the classroom that the audience is in a completely different world, in the world of the language being studied. This is all done to ensure that anyone in the learning process can completely adapt to the new environment (Mitchell et al., 2019). Learning a second language does not occur by itself but requires that individuals use the available techniques to enhance their abilities.

Adults Learning a Second Language

There is a warning that it is preferable to learn foreign languages in childhood and adolescence. It is essential to note that it is possible to begin to learn a foreign language at any age and status. The acquired knowledge will only benefit the person, and age is not a hindrance. Therefore, adults can start learning a second language if they desire and willingness to devote enough time to the learning process. If it occurs regularly, the first results will be noticed quite quickly. It is not only the technique that is essential to the learning process but also personal motivation and determination. All of this will be the key to success in learning a second language as an adult (Courtney, 2017). At the head of the whole learning process should be the goal of studying the language; this will largely depend on both the format of training and the time required to achieve the objective.

Accordingly, adults considering moving permanently to another country are trying to learn a second language. This is a powerful motivator because it will be impossible to solve even the most common issues without knowing the language. At the same time, traveling is one of the most enjoyable goals (Courtney, 2017). Mastering a foreign language can help people feel more confident and accessible, even in foreign countries. Another reason why people learn a second language is to go on a business trip abroad.

Linguistic knowledge is crucial, especially if these business travels are long and there is no opportunity to use the services of an interpreter. If employees are transferred to another nation, they need to know a foreign language because it is impossible to live and work in another country. It is essential to mention statistics showing that 30% of American companies stated they had lost business opportunities in foreign countries. Since they did not have their own staff speaking the dominant languages of these countries, at the same time, 40% said they could not realize their international potential because of language barriers (Courtney, 2017). Thus, the knowledge of a second language for an adult is a serious advantage that will contribute to a successful career.

In addition, adults who want to watch movies or read books in their original language learn a second language. Moreover, the cognitive capacity of one’s brain deteriorates with age. Accordingly, adults try to train their solder to enhance brain activity, and the most effective activity for memory training is learning a foreign language. Another category of people who know a second language are applicants who dream of studying abroad (Courtney, 2017). Many doors open in front of a person who understands a foreign language, and there are many opportunities.

Although, it is worth emphasizing that to master a foreign language, a person who already has a job or family will be required to allocate additional time to study. Moreover, classes must be regular for the training process to be more effective. Therefore, adult learners can find time to repeat what they have learned before work or school, during their lunch break, or even at bedtime (Courtney, 2017). If the motivation to learn English is significant enough for an adult, the learning process will be faster and more fruitful.

Young People Learning a Second Language

Many parents are preparing their children to learn a second language early because bilingualism has many advantages. Thus, most kids start learning a second language at school in today’s society. However, many experts recommend involving the baby in a foreign language at 4-5 years. It is easier to interest them during this period in something new and challenging. Some children successfully start to learn a second language at the age of 3 years (Hummel, 2020). Nevertheless, the absence of motivation in the child is the primary problem faced by many parents.

Hence, children first learn a second language according to their parents’ desires or needs in the family. For example, if a kid is born in an international family, they learn two languages at once to have a strong bond with their parents. However, children also learn a foreign language from childhood if the parents understand its importance in later life. Interestingly, when kids become older, they begin to use the latest gadgets and games, which almost always include English or another language (Hummel, 2020). Eventually, they understand that learning a second language is necessary for their advancement.

Generally, understanding the significance of a second language for development and further life appears in high school or at the institute. Candidates who know one or more foreign languages have priority among other students for admission to prestigious universities. Accordingly, they are interested in additional proficiency in a second language during their schooling at 12 -16 (Hummel, 2020). It is also significant to highlight that at this age, teenagers have many opportunities not only at school to learn a second language but also in courses. One should also remember the young people who start to learn a second language at university. This motivation is to meet classmates from other countries or on student trips from cultural exchange programs (Hummel, 2020). Consequently, their passion for a second language can provide a competitive advantage over other graduates in the future.

Naturally, children begin to learn a second language unknowingly, which may not produce sufficient success initially. Nevertheless, when they reach school and university age, they can consciously continue to enhance their abilities. Accordingly, having already some knowledge, a second language will not be complicated for further study (Hummel, 2020). Thus, children, adolescents, and young adults learning a second language are guided by many factors, first by their parents’ desire and then by their understanding of its appropriateness and relevance.

The Best Age to Learn a Second Language

People often wonder about the best time to start studying a second language. Researchers have found that the best chance to learn a foreign language at the level of a native speaker is for those who began studying at the age of under ten years. In order to analyze the information that was collected from 670 thousand volunteers of different nationalities and ages, they developed a computer model. In the questionnaires, respondents indicated their age and how many years they have been learning a foreign language and completed a grammar test. The average age of the study participants was from 20 to 30 years, the youngest was ten years, and the most mature was 70 years (Lardiere, 2017). The results indicate that the grammar of a second language is best learned during childhood and adolescence. After 18 years, the ability to learn quickly remains, but reaching the level of a native speaker is more complicated. Psychologists consider that the sensitive period for learning foreign languages is the age from 1.5 to 9 years (Lardiere, 2017). This is because this is the time when the children form their fundamental speech abilities.

The brain parts are responsible for the perception and progression of speech work particularly actively, which facilitates quick and easy mastering of the second language. This ability reduces as children become older, and learning foreign languages is more challenging. Moreover, the advantages of learning a second language exist at any age. Young kids better perceive other people’s words by ear and distinguish the features of new sounds. The preschool children, with fantastic speed, grasp the proper pronunciation and correct intonation (Lardiere, 2017). However, adults are better at concentrating on a specific assignment and have essential tools for expanding their vocabulary.

The Differences between Young and Adult Students in Learning a Second Language

Notably, young and adult learners have various behaviors when learning a second language. Accordingly, adult students are better disciplined, focused, and organized than younger ones. Therefore, teachers do not need to use different strategies to capture their attention, and adults are interested in actively working to obtain results. In the case of younger students, the teacher has a leadership role, meaning that the teacher has to monitor all steps of the work and supervise the student. In contrast, adult learners are more capable of solving more tasks without the assistance of others, and they should be provided with more freedom of action throughout the lesson. The following distinction is in the motivation of adult and young learners. It can be observed that adult learners are much more motivated because they are already learning a second language for a specific purpose (Hummel, 2020). The young students may not be aware of why they are making an effort now, which is why they lack motivation and enthusiasm in lessons.

Although adults often have many responsibilities in addition to learning, they cannot always attend classes; young students learn a second language systematically. This is because young people usually have lessons at school or university. Meanwhile, learning a second language has peculiarities for different categories of students. The younger learners have more developed mechanical memory, and children from 6 to 9 memorize poems, dialogues, and even small texts and then reproduce them close to the text (Courtney, 2017). In adolescence, there is a restructuring of memory, increasing its volume, and it actively begins to develop logical memory. With age, many people’s ability to remember declines; therefore, adult students do not learn, for example, grammatical rules but study the logic of language. Hence, young learners master the material better but have problems with motivation and concentration, and adult learners, on the contrary.


Hence, the peculiarities of attitudes toward learning a second language and the motives that motivate young and adult students are different. At the same time, they have different benefits and disadvantages when learning a second language. Even though adults and young people have approximately the same chances of learning a foreign language, the best results are achieved by those who start learning in childhood. That is because they perceive the second language as a native one since their whole life is involved in learning.


Courtney, L. (2017). Transition in modern foreign languages: A longitudinal study of motivation for language learning and second language proficiency. Oxford Review of Education, 43(4), 462-481.

Hummel, K. M. (2020). Introducing second language acquisition: Perspectives and practices. John Wiley & Sons.

Lardiere, D. (2017). Ultimate attainment in second language acquisition: A case study. Routledge.

Mitchell, R., Myles, F., & Marsden, E. (2019). Second language learning theories. Routledge.

Cite this paper

Select style


Premium Papers. (2023, April 8). Young Learners vs. Adult Learners in Learning a Second Language. Retrieved from


Premium Papers. (2023, April 8). Young Learners vs. Adult Learners in Learning a Second Language.

Work Cited

"Young Learners vs. Adult Learners in Learning a Second Language." Premium Papers, 8 Apr. 2023,


Premium Papers. (2023) 'Young Learners vs. Adult Learners in Learning a Second Language'. 8 April.


Premium Papers. 2023. "Young Learners vs. Adult Learners in Learning a Second Language." April 8, 2023.

1. Premium Papers. "Young Learners vs. Adult Learners in Learning a Second Language." April 8, 2023.


Premium Papers. "Young Learners vs. Adult Learners in Learning a Second Language." April 8, 2023.