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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Is It Too Late to Learn Chinese?

When the humorist Dave Barry went to Japan in the early 1990s, he attempted to learn the language by reading a paperback phrase book, Japanese at a Glance, on the flight over. "That is not the method recommended by experts," he wrote. "The method recommended by experts is to be born a Japanese baby and raised by a Japanese family, in Japan."

The language of the moment is Chinese, and the expert advice is depressingly similar.

Difficult--but not impossible. In some areas, such as vocabulary memorization, older students can actually outperform younger peers. "Adults shouldn't say 'I'm too old to learn,'" says Long. "All over the world, millions of people have become extremely good in a second language, even when they started in their 30s and 40s." You can't expect to soak up Chinese like a sponge, but you do have the ability to concentrate and to study for hours on end. Unfortunately, if you want to learn Chinese, that's what you'll need to do.