The age factor, motivation, and outcomes in Second Language Acquisition (SLA)

Knowledge of languages is incredibly beneficial for self-development, as continual globalization allows people to connect and experience diverse communities and cultures. From an early age to adulthood, proficiency in a second language is becoming more than desirable. Consequently, studying language learning methods outcomes for various age groups is becoming increasingly important. 

Researchers have been studying and observing learning processes that depend on age factors, introducing hypotheses that younger learners are more skillful in learning a second language than adolescents and adult learners – they can learn faster, with less effort, and are not driven by stress. Studies also indicate that children learn pronunciation and morphosyntax way better than other age groups.[1] However, other studies have pointed out that adolescents achieve the best outcomes in language learning because ”their flexibility and simultaneous process of mature development facilitate learning.”[2] Moreover, adults ”outperform children and adolescents in writing and reading skills” as they are more ”motivated, experienced, have both short-term and long-term memories, possess meta-language awareness and common sense.”[3]

Despite internal or external distinctions between learners, we can demonstrate how age is one of the key factors in language learning and how it shapes motivation processes and outcomes for each of the age cohorts. 

Early Childhood and Elementary School

Even children that are not actively learning a new language are often affected by language-related factors. If not actively learning a new language, youngsters are indeed surrounded by language factors. Children can recall words from songs, stories, and television or learn through communicating with other bilingual children. Of course, each child’s path to bilingualism can be different, but it is always an extremely valuable skill to possess. Firstly, learning a second language improves opportunities in life – it helps with early school success and later academic achievement, thanks to improved reading, listening, writing, and math skills, among others. The benefits, besides the success factor, also improve their social skills. Language sets the platform for perceiving the world in new ways through exploring language styles, idioms, vocabulary, and culture. It enhances creativity and mental flexibility. Acquired language skills also improve empathy and social connections – they are character-defining and help them to connect with other communities, make friends and fit in. Studies also point out the health benefits for children that ”show that children who learn a second language are containing attention despite outside stimuli better than children who know only one language.”[4]


Motivation for learning or improving second language skills starts to change during the teenage years. Tasks become more demanding and require a different level of focus for understanding and absorbing a subject. Teenagers enter a transitional period and need to build up their self-confidence and enthusiasm toward further learning. School classes could incorporate learning themes that are the most interesting for teenagers to learn about – popular culture and multimedia; music, videos, games, movies, etc. Adolescent motivation depends on aspirations such as learning a foreign language to pass an exam and achieve higher school results, improving communication while traveling or connecting through social media and other websites and getting their first jobs (among others). Each aspiration helps with forming new friendships, building teamwork skills, improving speaking, writing, and listening, sharpening problem-solving skills, enhancing their hobbies, shaping their identity, redefining their potential, and improving their overall mental health. Of course, for that to be possible, they need to be presented with a pleasant, incentive, and supportive atmosphere for learning.


Studies show that adults are, in other areas, even more, capable to soak up new language knowledge than children. Their cognitive and financial abilities, motivation, and discipline are also completely different and so are the final learning advantages. Adults usually learn a new language for a specific reason and outcome – traveling, career benefits, professional communication, writing projects, theses, seminars, seeking a new job, moving to a new country, but also just for fun. However, their motivation is often directed to a specific purpose. Adults will use other learning techniques to achieve a level of fluency but in the end, it is a rewarding experience, and improvements in other life segments are irreplaceable.

Senior Years

                        It is never too late to start learning a second language. With more free time on their hands and new life opportunities, retired seniors also get interested in building new skills. This includes learning new languages, which offers them a plethora of cognitive, social, and health benefits. Research has shown that learning a language at an older age improves memory and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It increases the ability to multitask, boosts creativity and intellectual activity, and increases social interactions – by joining online learning communities or even reducing travel stress levels.


            Learning languages is great for the mind, body, and soul and – an investment for overall happiness and well-being. Children, adolescents, and adults are motivated differently to learn them and benefit by acquiring a variety of skills needed for personal development.         

[1] Burlbaw Lynn M. and Ozfidan Burhan. ‘’A Literature-Based Approach on Age Factors in Second Language Acwuisition: Children, Adolescents, and Adults.’’ In International Education Studies: Vol 12, No. 10. Canadian Center of Science and Education, 2019., p. 27.

[2] Ibid, 33.

[3] Ibid.


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