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by Theodore Fischer, AARP VIVA, August 2007
En español | You’re never too old to learn a new language, whether you want to study English or pick up the Spanish your parents or teachers discouraged you from speaking. While the ability to learn new languages begins to decline around the end of preschool, educators agree that adults have a few advantages over tots, namely life experience, background knowledge, literacy in their first language, and, most important, strong motivation.
See also: Learning English reaps major rewards.
What’s the best way adults can become bilingual? “It all depends on the type of learning they prefer,” says Helmer Duvergé of the National Center for Family Literacy. Right-brain thinkers—highly organized people who prefer to work independently and, according to Duvergé, typically “read the manual before they start putting the bike together”—fare better with a self-taught course that permits them to learn at their own pace. More sociable left-brain thinkers flourish in classroom settings, where they can interact with other students and ask the teacher questions.
Meanwhile, young Hispanics are either losing their Spanish or not learning in the first place—both unfortunate developments not only because of the loss of culture but because bilingual students outperform monolingual students on standardized tests.
“In the past it would take about two to three generations [after an immigrant family’s arrival in a new country] for the language to be lost. Now, in the Latino community, it’s being lost within one generation,” says Lucia Buttaro, associate professor of bilingual education at Adelphi University. “These Hispanics will become what researchers refer to as ‘semilingual’—they’ll understand and babble a little bit of Spanish but have absolutely no reading and writing skills—and that’s sad.”
So explore the possibilities—in Spanish and English.
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