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The optimism in this thread is nice, but where are the success stories which would support your hypothesis?

To overturn "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" proverb you need to show that a 30 year old can achieve similar level of mastery in 5 years of intensive study/deliberate practice as a 10 year old.

You are not going to become an olympic gymnast if you start practicing backflips at 30.

Take 100 kids and immerse them in a language at 10 and they all will be fluent by 15.

Take 100 30 year olds and not all of them will be fluent by 35. I know of many such examples, adults living in foreign countries in total immersion, speaking the foreign language as their main language and still not passing for a native.

My hypothesis: You can get decent in many fields of learning as a 30 year old with dedication but not great.

The field near and dear to my heart - chess is just one of many fields where late greatness is lacking.

There are NO chess grandmasters who learned the game at 25. The few late starting outliers started in their late teens.

Talented kids become GMs at age 13-15 these days after 5-7 years of study.

In fact there are very few people reaching master level who start with tabula rasa at age 20+ and not for lack of trying.

Grandmaster is not an super exclusive title: there are 1600+ of them in the world.

My hypothesis is that reaching the innate mastery in many fields requires a crucial effort in your teen years.

So far I can't find many late starters.

One such outlier Joseph Conrad started writing in English in his mid 20s.

Still he did learn English earlier than that. Per wikipedia - "Shakespeare brought him into the orbit of English literature." and that was at an age of 10 or so

I learned Japanese to fluency from zero starting at age 26. I don't know if these qualify as "greatness" but I have read books in Japanese, headed meetings in Japanese, written blog posts in Japanese, presented in Japanese. I even have occasional dreams in Japanese.

I think the "learn early" meme is spread by people who do not have the time/energy to put into late life learning, but who are happier feeling that even if they did, it would be impossible anyway. It's a defeatist attitude, but I suppose it must be comforting. I personally can't stand it though.

Your is a good positive example of starting relatively late and achieving proficiency by immersion and hard study.

However, I know of counter examples of hard working friends who are totally immersed in the foreign language and working in the foreign country and still nowhere near native levels.

Again my hypothesis is not that it is impossible to achieve proficiency in some skill at a later age, but that it is harder by some unknown factor.

Put 100 foreign kids age 12 in Japanese schools and they will all learn good Japanese by age 18. Plus they will pass for a native speaker.

Put 100 foreign adults aged 32 in a Japanese workplace and they will learn some Japanese by age 38. Most will not pass for a native speaker. Yes a few outliers will get good like you did.

I posit that the second group will have a much tougher time learning and will advance less than the first group.

The study in OP did nothing to overturn my hypothesis.

If you start learning English at age 18 you can achieve high level of reading comprehension at 28 but you will still have problems with accent (unless you can hire a specialized speech coach like Arnold did).

> Put 100 foreign kids age 12 in Japanese schools and they will all learn good Japanese by age 18. Plus they will pass for a native speaker.

Ummmm, I know people that moved to New Zealand younger than 12 that just don't sound native. Many people retain accent issues, although usually end up with a normal spread of proficiencies at grammar.

There are NO chess grandmasters who learned the game at 25. The few late starting outliers started in their late teens.

Talented kids become GMs at age 13-15 these days after 5-7 years of study.

I am not convinced by this argument. In many countries a sizeable proportion of the child population is encouraged to play chess, and very, very few of them become GMs (or any kind of master). The number of adults who pick up chess and pursue it ~fulltime is miniscule in comparison.

So the question is what is the ratio of kids picking up chess vs adults.

If ratio is 100:1 one would expect to see some strong adult starters emerging.

There are many people who pick up chess in adulthood and devote considerable time and get nowhere near master level.

Adults have more learning resources available to them but there is something in the rigidity of adult brain that prevents substantial progress.

I will not argue with physical fields (like gymnastics) However, the lack of chess GMs who started at 25 could be explained with very few 25 year olds attempting to become a GM starting at this age.

At this age, capable people are busy with their lives and I suspect overwhelmingly will not even attempt reaching grand mastery in chess.

To settle this scientifically we would need to find a group of 25 year olds who never practiced chess before and do 5-7 years of study (the same level of intensity that your 13yo grand masters perform).

I wouldn't be surprised if the set of such people is empty.

A thing we would need to control for is natural aptitude (perhaps IQ would be applicable here?). So we should take our 25 year olds and compare them to a group of kids with IQ in the same range who are going through similar study regimen.

Here, we may find that the 7 year olds who attempt and complete rigorous study chess are all mental prodigies to begin with and it will be even harder to find comparable 25 year old group.

I am not trying to be defeatist when I say that adults have a harder time acquiring new skills.

Maybe the factor is not that large as previously thought, but there is still a difficulty factor that increases as you get older.

EDIT: Well there goes my hope for HN supporting differing viewpoints. Pollyannaism is what one should support if one cares about karma.

I welcome multiple downvotes without explanation on where my hypothesis fails.

The OP (despite bias in promoting language learning schools as he is CEO of one) does not even disagree with me:

"Certainly on average the later learner seems to have a rarer time getting there, but is it impossible?

The data tells us that it’s not. On average less likely, certainly, but there are thousands of people who took this quiz, got a score in the range that a native speaker would, and started learning the language after the age of 20."

So it is possible but much harder/rarer.

> There are NO chess grandmasters who learned the game at 25. The few late starting outliers started in their late teens.

I think Chigorin is a good counterexample.


> Incidentally, Soltis mentions a few late-bloomers like Amos Byrne, who hardly played chess at all before age 38. Also, there is Chigorin, who started his tournament career at age 27, Then there's George Salwe, number 2 player in Poland in the early 20th century, who didn't start playing in major events until he was 42! English Master Joseph Henry Blake achieved his best result at age 63.

> Talented kids become GMs at age 13-15 these days after 5-7 years of study.

Uh, no, not even close.

Magnus Carlsen, arguably one of the best chess players ever, became a grandmaster at 13.

Hikaru Nakamura became the youngest American to get a grandmaster title at 15.

You have to be damn near a God of the game to be in the 13-15 year old GM category--not simply "talented".

Well it is all about how high one wants to set the bar.

Those examples are from 100+ years ago.

Chigorin is a promising counterexample but there are a few caveats.

He learned the moves at 16, late by modern standards and supposedly only got serious at 24.

We really do not know how much intensive/deliberate study he did ages 16-24. That is the big question. Same goes for Salwe.

So while Chigorin is a relatively late bloomer he still falls in the starting to play chess in his teens category.

I mostly concur with Polgar experiment with the addition that you have to start early.

If age was NOT a factor there should be very strong players who started late after age of 25 put in their hard 5-7 years and became at least an IM.

Disclaimer: I missed IM norm by 0.5 points so obviously I am biased.

If it’s any consolation, in this world of increasing nationalism it seems no one wants anything International.

Seriously though, I’m confident you’re exceptionally skilled to have come so close to that title. I’m unranked but can beat my friends and I would guess you could start without either rook and still make short work of me.

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks" because old dogs already know all the tricks.

Its more about what the bar is: you are talking about masters

And other people are looking for confirmation that proficiency is possible or that the differences are quite narrow

you want to prove the possibility of an extreme, and I want to prove that most adult just make excuses as the pseudoscience that says adults worse at learning is convenient for all cognitive circumstances

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