What does training a young elephant have to do with how most older people feel about language learning?
In India, elephants are used for working in the forest. So that a young elephant doesn’t run away, it is chained to a post by one leg. The small elephant first tries to run away but the chain stops it and it realises it can’t get away.
As the elephant gets bigger, it becomes so strong that it could easily break the chain with one tug. But it doesn’t even attempt to get away because it learned as a small elephant that trying to escape would be pointless. In the end, a thin rope is enough to stop this powerful elephant from running away.
Although it would have only taken the elephant one big tug to break the rope, it doesn’t try because it doesn’t believe this would work. This is unfortunately how most adults feel when approaching language learning later in life. Earlier (negative) experiences have taught people that learning languages is „too difficult“ and that it would be „impossible“ for them to learn and this „mental chain“ leads to a fatalistic acceptance that learning a language (or anything new) is pointless.
People may make statements such as „I’m too old to learn“ but what is behind it is an unquestioning acceptance of the „chain“.
And yet, all it would take is one tug!