It is often stated that children are better at learning foreign languages than adults, but is this really the case? Do all children possess the key to language learning? Can adults imitate this process and learn like a child does so to speak? This post will answer all of these questions and more!
Where does this rumour come from?
It is clear that the development of a child’s brain has a lot to do with it. It goes without saying that as a child’s brain is developing it allows them to learn at a faster rate because of the plasticity of the brain and the rapid neural formation.
However, I would say that it is not just that. Children learn quickly for another less commonly known reason. Children do not fear making mistakes and this allows them to see language as a kind of game.
The acquisition of a language can often be broken down into 3 stages: The learning of sounds, then words, then sentences.
At first children learn to distinguish sounds before trying to imitate sounds. In the second stage
In the second stage children begin to join sounds and make up the simplest form of words, also known as morphemes.
In the final stage children learn to put words in the correct order and transmit meaning. They learn clear grammatical structures and how they can influence meaning.
Can adults copy this process?
in a sense all language learners need to follow the same steps but due to the brain’s development, the rate of learning can depreciate with age. In saying this, I reckon that the biggest issue with adults learning a language is an issue with jumping steps in the language learning process.
Adults tend to jump directly to stage 3. They focus on grammar and sentence structure and often skip the process of recognising sounds and reproducing them. This can be because they feel ridiculous doing so or see it as a waste of time.
It is important for adults to spend time on phonetics and understanding why this is essential for their speaking and listening skills even though it might be seen as a slow process.
We have stated before that learning how to pronounce words is a physical process so it is of the utmost importance that it is not disregarded. What’s more, adults and children alike should spend time making sure they can produce these individual sounds and phonemes. Children learn by doing and this is the best way of improving pronunciation, as an adult I understand that this can be somewhat embarrassing, but the process is a key step in learning. Try shadowing or even recording your own voice and then drilling sounds. It is known that the more you listen, the better too.
What are the benefits of knowing more than one language?
Asides from the obvious advantages, there are some other upsides that we should bear in mind. Research seems to suggest that multilingual people have more effective problem solving skills and memories. They generally do better in their academic studies and there are suggesting that learning a language can improve your IQ by up to 10 points.
It is important to know that knowing more than one language does not mean that you are smarter than monolingual people, but it does mean that your brain could have the ability to become smarter.
What can we learn from this post?
What we are trying to say in this post is that adults need to make sure that they learn a language using the correct steps and that they do not ignore the foundation of a language (the sounds and phonetics).
Adults can speed up the language learning process by focusing on experimenting with language, without the fear of mistakes because this can cause stress and anxiety. These are very detrimental to learning.
So what are you waiting for? You can get started today!