Research Unplugged: Is it ever too late to learn a second language?

October 18, 2004

James Lantolf learned German, his fourth language, when he was 35. He picked it up during visits with his wife's family in Germany, where, for a while, his speaking skills confined him to a spot at the children's table. Raised in the United States in an Italian-speaking home, Lantolf learned English as a child. He later tackled Spanish in college. While studying in Mexico, Lantolf says, he was one of the few students whose language skills significantly improved, simply because he wasn't afraid to make mistakes. Now a professor of Spanish and linguistics and director of the Center for Language Acquisition at Penn State, Lantolf, 56, studies the limits of language learning. People have always had the idea that when you reach a certain age, you lose the ability to learn a language, he says. But it's not fair to compare children and adults when it comes to language learning, he adds, because "language is a child's life."
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  • James Lantolf

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated July 28, 2017