What don’t we learn languages like little children do?

What don’t we learn languages like little children do?

It is one of those questions that really doesn’t have a black or white answer. Unfortunately for those who like things in neat numbered boxes, language and language learning is not an exact science, and it doesn’t matter how many psychologists run tests and/or questionnaires on people and their experiences, it will never be.

So, how do we answer this question? Let’s use what we know, which is ourselves and our experience as people.

Learning a language is often frustrating, and when we are at that low point, we may want to burn our grammar books and dictionaries, and wonder why we cannot learn like little children do. However, first things first, do you even remember thinking without words? We relate to our world though the things we know and we put our feelings and thoughts into words, that shape the way we see our surroundings. Babies are born as a blank slate and start learning from day one. They do not have any language already that shapes their expectations.

Also, one has to take into account the amount of time a baby/small child devotes to language learning: 24/7  for at least 3 years to start talking some sense and many more years to acquire certain fluency and maturity in their language. As adults we have different agendas and usually spending hours and hours listening without being able to speak or understand for that matter is not high on it.

As adults we also come with a history that children don’t have, we may feel insecure, or have had a bad experience with language learning in the past or many other issues that can influence how we approach it.

Structure becomes much more important later in life, and the most successful methods are those that manage to balance the grammar and structure with a good measure of practice and immersion.

Adults have fully developed muscles and organs that allow them to speak and their brain is developed and allows them to understand abstract concepts. An adult is probably better equipped than a child to deal with structure and it’s probably easier for most adults to actually deal with grammar and languages structures than being faced by a deluge of incomprehensible language.

Learning languages as an adult has its advantages as well. There are many reports of children who learn a language but consequently forget it once they move countries and never speak it again. As an adult you also need practice, but although you may get “rusty” you are not likely to totally forget a language you have learnt as an adult. The “rustiness” tend to disappear after a short while of practice.

So, don’t be afraid of grammar!


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