Possible not to be able to learn another language?

When I enlisted ('96) they gave us the Defense Language Aptitude Battery. I think they still use it to gauge whether someone has the ability to learn a language quickly. I swear it’s the most difficult test I’ve ever taken, and I’ve taken a LOT of freaking tests. Anyway, like Chefguy says, if you’re at DLIFLC you’re not typically an intellectual slouch, but people don’t make the cut all the time. (Now, to be fair there are a lot of additional stressors there beyond having to learn a language.)

I took French in Middle/High School, and I sucked at it. Absolutely hating my HS French teacher didn’t really help me out there. I avoided trying to learn a language for a long time after that, convinced I couldn’t do it. Fast forward, and I really wanted that security clearance, so I enlisted for a linguist job. The first month or two at DLI was pretty rough, but once I got the fundamentals down I started picking it up rather quickly.

I think that maybe a learner just needs to get over that initial hump. Figure out that it’s just another system, and how it differs from your native tongue. And then of course learn all the words. :stuck_out_tongue:

Returning back to English for the moment, it’s “eke” out, not “eek,” and “its” is the possessive form (outstanding in its field), while “it’s” is a contraction (it’s a lovely day outside).

I only said the above to make you hate me :smiley: Seriously, though, there’s a point I’m trying to make, albeit obliquely. The time during which we assimilate languages smoothly and easily seems to end by the time we’re age five or so. After that, we learn any second language on a more “intellectual” rather than a visceral level. The difference, as I understand it from the reading I’ve done on the subject, is that early in life, “house” and “casa” are equivalent, whereas after that, one is the primary word to be used and the other is the alternate. We pick up alternate forms of expression, whether they be second languages, mathematical equations, or musical notation, in a much more formalized way than the method by which we acquired and continue to acquire knowledge of our first language.

This is why I pointed out the spelling errors you made. “Eke” is a word that one rarely sees in print, so if you don’t do a great deal of reading, you’re likely to know the word and how it sounds but not know how to spell it–so you conflate it with the homonym, “eek,” which you probably have seen in movies, cartoons, etc. Likewise, the it’s/its error isn’t going to be made by someone who reads a great deal–and this is not to insult you by saying that you don’t read “a great deal”–most people read comparatively little these days.

So in terms of whether some people are good and some people lousy at learning languages in adulthood, I would say that if you are good in general at acquiring information by reading–which makes you one of the four roughly equal-in-population types of learners–then you’ll be a good formal learner of a language; you’ll be able to write and read it well. If you’re an aural learner, you will probably learn to speak it well but your reading and writing will be weak. If you’re an experiential learner, you might have great difficulty learning from a text. If you’re am empirical learner (one who needs examples), you will need side-by-side simultaneous translations to effectively learn.

The above is a drastic oversimplification, but the main point I wanted to make is that yes indeed, past age five or so we are definitely either predisposed or unsuited to learning a second language. Obviously, this varies by degree, in that you can probably force yourself to learn a language no matter what if you have to (which shows the folly of awarding one student who has sweated blood to pass the course a B-minus and the other one who breezed through an A).