Can you learn French when you’re over 50?

Doubt can be the biggest enemy to anyone wanting to learn anything new, not just another language, such as French. These doubts typically increase as you get older, and particularly when you reach the ‘Golden Age’ (I hate this term!). Concerns about your mental ability diminishing and worries about whether there’s even any point are real. But, are there any actual facts behind these concerns?

You’ll be pleased to know that there is no reason to start learning French when you’re over 50. In fact, there are several more reasons to start than there are to not. You will find that after reading the below, you’ll probably be convinced that it’s a great idea to delay no more!

Is there any point in starting?

I know how you feel. I’m over 50 myself and it’s totally understandable that you have these doubts. The longest and most difficult step you’ll take though is the first one.

I know this as I did exactly the same. There were several doubts that I had, but the main ones were:

  • I don’t have the same mental ability that I used to
  • I’m too old to enjoy the results
  • I don’t have the time

The only real point of significance out of the above is the last point, but I’ll get onto this (and indeed the other points) in a bit.

The very best thing you can do now (well, after reading this) is to construct a simple plan to cover your learning for the first week. Learning French is quite a time-sink but you’ll soon get a feel for exactly how much time you can commit to it.

If you want to get to a decent level of learning, unless you’re some kind of super-human, is going to take you a long time, maybe years. It won’t take you years to have a conversation or understand the basics, but it will take you a long time if you want to comprehend French shows and films without relying on subtitles.

My point here is you won’t know how much time you really have to give to the learning process until you dive in. So, you should do just that – dive in, and without delay!

Will learning French be harder when you’re over 50?

Learning French when you’re over 50, unless you’re retired, will probably be harder than when you were in your 20s. But probably not for the reasons you think.

Your mental ability to consume knowledge when older does not diminish, despite what many think. Assuming you’re healthy and have no cognitive issues, the learning process will not be any more difficult.

The only reason why you may find it harder to learn French in your 50s compared to when you were younger is due to other things going on in your life at this age. Younger people typically don’t have as many responsibilities. You may be a parent (or a grandparent), have a job that consumes a lot of time and just have more distractions.

However, on the flip-side to this, you may well be better at managing your time than when you were younger and additionally you may be better at handling distractions. Or you might not – if you’re anything like me!

Does it take longer to learn French when you’re older?

The only reason why it can take longer to learn French when you’re older is that you don’t have the amount of free time that you used to when you were younger!

Of course, how long it’s going to take for you to get a good understanding of French depends on the type of person you are and how much time you can commit to it.

I had two challenges initially. Firstly, I was starting from literally nothing. It was a long time since I studied French at school and even back then I didn’t get a good grade. I knew only the very basics. The second challenge I had (and continue to have to some degree) was that my comprehension of English grammar wasn’t particularly good.

You certainly don’t need to have a good comprehension of grammar before starting to learn but it will definitely help you if you do! The good thing about learning another language is that by going through the learning process, you can’t help but improve the grammar of your native language.

What’s the best way to learn French if you’re over 50?

If you’re over 50, the best way to learn French is the same as if you were 30 years younger! Your age isn’t really relevant.

The best advice I can give is to form a plan in the early days as to how you’re going to approach your learning. You’ll know how many hours you can dedicate to the process every day. Split this up between the core essentials:

  • Basics (grammar and simple sentences)
  • Vocabulary – use a flashcard tool such as Anki to remember new words
  • Writing – it’s tempting to ignore this but it’ll help you out no-end if from the very start you practise writing/spelling.
  • Comprehension – listen to YouTube or watch programmes in French (but with subtitles). Comprehension is something I ignored in the early days and being able to listen to conversations and understand them is probably my biggest weakness.
  • Fun stuff – get an app, such as Duolingo. You won’t be able to learn French fully using this but it’s easy to use and fun. Sometimes you just need to do something different – this can be that thing.


Hopefully, it’s quite clear now that there are no barriers related to age that should prevent you from starting to learn French.

I think sometimes people are looking for excuses not to start, and in theory, this is a great one. Except, it’s not. Your age does not mean you’re going to find learning French any harder than when you were younger, in fact, for the reasons I stated above, you may even find it easier.

The very best thing you can do is to just start. Starting today will make the process longer than if you started yesterday but you’ll find it quicker than if you wait until tomorrow.

So, what are you waiting for…get on with it!

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