LANGUAGE LEARNING FOR OLDER PEOPLE
by Dorothy Kalloch
Heading toward the Mission field are a group of eager retirees who want to use their gifts as God directs. Perhaps many of them are wondering, "At my age can I really learn a new language?"
A study called, "Language Learning in Midlife" starts out by saying, "Language acquisition for this group is an issue which should be explored as agencies rethink policies for recruitment, personnel placement, and member care. Recent research indicates that an older adult can successfully learn another language despite the conventional wisdom that after some ill-defined point in early adulthood it is 'too late' to learn a language. That is not to say that the task is an easy one, and there are significant differences in the older learner to be addressed." (Language Learning in Midlife" by Colleen S. Hale. Wheaton College Graduate School)
How old is "older"? Hmm. "'Midlife' is defined as adults between the ages of 40 and 65." "Sixty-five is the usual retirement age, at least in the U.S., so what about people who come after that, wanting to gain some fluency in a new language? The situation for them is certainly not hopeless, since God is sovereignly directing, so let's continue as if no such limit had been set, perhaps with a little more emphasis on the need for evaluation of any individual physical and/or mental decline. "Most researchers agree that "nearly every mental operation requires more time with increased age" (Ibid. p. 11)
When some second-career missionaries were asked about their language-learning experience, the conclusion was that most of them "…wish their mission board had recognized the depth of their commitment and potential longevity in service by designing a modified course of dedicated language study for them before they arrived on the field." Lonna Dickerson gives this as one of the ways we can best help the older learner. Wycliffe Bible Translators have courses specifically designed to aid...