Adults learning additional languages in their later years

The pain, the profit, and the pleasure


  • David Singleton Trinity College Dublin
  • Dorota Záborská Heian Jogakuin (St. Agnes’) University



third-age, language learning, challenges, benefits, enjoyment, savouring


This article will explore the experience—challenges, benefits, and satisfactions— that awaits older adults who embark on the adventure of learning additional languages, either as ‘true’ or ‘false’ beginners, or in some cases as resilient lifelong (foreign language) learners (to be distinguished from polyglots). Drawing on the increasing number of studies focusing on third-age language learning, the article will address the self-doubt afflicting many third-age language learners and the difficulties claimed to be imposed on them by the effects of an age-related decline in language-learning capacity. It will go on to discuss the benefits that are said to accrue for older learners of languages other than their first. Finally, it will address and exemplify from our own data the intense enjoyment which many older adults derive from language learning.

Author Biographies

David Singleton, Trinity College Dublin

David Singleton is Emeritus Fellow at Trinity College Dublin, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Pannonia. He has served as Secretary General of AILA and as President of EUROSLA. He is co-author of Key Topics in Second Language Acquisition (2014) and Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning (2017) and is co-editor of Twelve Lectures on Multilingualism (2019). He is the founding editor and continuing co-editor of the Multilingual Matters SLA book series. In 2015 he received the EUROSLA Distinguished Scholar Award and in 2017 was awarded Honorary Membership of AILA.

Dorota Záborská, Heian Jogakuin (St. Agnes’) University

Dorota Záborská is an assistant professor at Heian Jogakuin (St. Agnes’) University in Kyoto (Japan) and is currently a PhD candidate at Waseda University. She has been teaching English at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels since 2002. Her main research theme is the psychology of language learning, motivation, and learning foreign languages in the third age. Through the lens of positive psychology, she explores the concept of savouring, the capacities to consciously attend to positive experiences in one’s life. She investigates how such capacities of third-agers in their language studies result in positive effects on their overall wellbeing.


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How to Cite

Singleton, D., & Záborská, D. (2020). Adults learning additional languages in their later years: The pain, the profit, and the pleasure. Journal of Multilingual Theories and Practices, 1(1), 112–124.