You've probably heard that an old dog can't learn new tricks—and that's mostly true.
While senior doggos can be better than puppies at solving some small puzzles—it seems like there's some barrier stopping them from being able to pick up totally new behaviors.
And the same is true for an old human—or an "adult" as I'm sometimes called.
While we're better than little kids at learning to do specific tasks, we're often worse at mastering new complex skills—including languages.
In fact, compared to people who start learning a second language before age 10, people who start after they hit double digits are way less likely to ever attain a native-like fluency.
You might think that's because there's something about young brains—as opposed to old brains - that makes them more amenable to learning complicated new things.
But the real culprits may be not one but two sociological barriers that come with adulting.
The first is that adults usually don't invest as much in learning a new language as kids do.
When a family immigrates to a country with a new language, the kids will almost certainly need to use that language to learn stuff at school, to make friends, and to keep up with pop culture.
The parents, though, won't necessarily have to use the new language at their jobs, they'll often already have friends who speak their native language, and, well, adults usually care more about the old pop culture of their youth.
And importantly when an adult wants to take a break from using a new language, they usually can.
But kids often have to keep trying even when they don't want to, which means they do it more, which actually helps them gain fluency quicker.
The other barrier that adults have to overcome is that while adults are good at following directions, which can often help us beat kids at specific tasks like applying a new verb tense, we tend to see a new language as a huge set of rules to be followed.
And we're so worried that we'll "do mistakes" and "talks wrongly" that we end up not using the new language very much while kids who are way less risk averse in general use it a lot more.
And it turns out that the risky approach—simply letting loose and trying to communicate as often as possible in as many situations as possible, mistakes and all—seems to be the very best way to learn a new language.
There are a few other reasons why an adult might have trouble learning a new language, but if they find reasons to be invested in the new language, use effective strategies, and forgo worrying about mistakes, they can knock down these two big barriers and become bilingual.
In fact, using these strategies, some adults have learned to fluently speak several extra languages.
One of those hyperlinguists, Kató Lomb, started learning new languages after age 10 and kept learning more and more throughout her life - including a final language when she was well into her 80s.
How's that for breaking down barriers?
This video was sponsored by the University of Minnesota, where students, faculty and staff across all fields of study are working to solve the grand challenges facing society.
One of these challenges is enhancing individual and community capacity for a changing world, which includes figuring out how we can all communicate better with one another.
Dr. Kate Paesani and her team at the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition are studying multilingualism and multiculturalism to improve foreign language teaching and learning, and Professor Martha Bigelow of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction studies multilingual educational policy, with a focus on immigrant and refugee youth.