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A while back, I watched the movie The Terminal and the main character played by Tom Hanks learns to speak fluent English while he is stranded in the airport for more than a year. Which seems somewhat superfluous as I was of the opinion that picking up a new language when you grow older is not easy. But Tom Hanks' character manages to speak English quite fluently given his background.

Dr Martha Young-Scholten of University of Newcastle mentions that the movie accurately describes how someone would acquire a second language under naturalistic exposure:

Misrepresentations of complex issues such as adult second language (L2) acquisition are rife in the news media; one does not expect Hollywood to differ. Yet the 2004 film The Terminal (2004) gets it right. Stranded in a NY airport for a year, Tom Hanks’ character accurately depicts the early stages of acquisition and demonstrates how ample naturalistic exposure leads to advanced L2 proficiency. Hollywood also manages cultural nuances; initial communication fails because the authorities assume Hanks is attempting to immigrate when his purpose is one of pilgrimage.

So, by what is presented in the movie as well as what Dr Martha has to say, does it mean that if an individual is forced to use a language he is almost unfamiliar with, would it help him make significant progress in acquiring that language, regardless of his age?

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This reminds me of the anecdotal evidence on how immersing/moving to a country where the language is the de facto, provides a huge difference. My personal experience agrees, though i suppose it is rooted it in how much attention is paid to the new language. I don't have to pay attention to the new language in my hometown. –  Anand Jeyahar Oct 10 '12 at 12:01
I watched this movie for the first time yesterday and winced every time there was a scene where Hanks' character appeared to be "learning" English with no assistance whatsoever from anyone. He suddenly understands the many words and ideas as if by magic. As I say, I found all this cringe-inducing.. –  user6255 Jun 26 '14 at 23:49

1 Answer 1

No, age is a factor. The process of using and acquiring language is based on the brain itself. The size and development of Broca's and Wernicke's area would affect any persons ability to learn another language. People with organic or psychological problems which cause differences with language, memory or attention may have greater difficulty acquiring a second language regardless of how well the immersion is performed.

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This does not answer the question. The question is "does immersion help make significant progress even for people past their critical acquisition period" or "can a person past their critical age still acquire language fluency quickly if immersed" –  Artem Kaznatcheev Jan 15 '14 at 4:22
@ArtemKaznatcheev uh no –  caseyr547 Jan 15 '14 at 4:42
The question was "does it mean that if an individual is forced to use a language he is almost unfamiliar with, would it help him make significant progress in acquiring that language, regardless of his age?" –  caseyr547 Jan 15 '14 at 9:09
The answer is no age is a factor. –  caseyr547 Jan 15 '14 at 9:09
There is absolutely no reason to mention Broca's and Wernicke's in this non-answer. I have no idea what the second line is even supposed to mean either. –  jona Jun 27 '14 at 0:03

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