Tim likes to travel. Follow his adventures as he explores the world.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

5 Reasons This American Thinks It's Easier for Kids to Learn Languages

I'm learning Spanish. I was / am still / should be doing more to learn French. Languages are hard. Not because they are hard, but because I am an adult. Remember when you were a young child (this may be a long time ago for some), how easy life was? No bills, no significant problems, no responsibility. Ah, the good ol' days!

As we get older, we become smarter and wiser, or at least we think we do. Really, it seems, we just have more information stuffed in our heads that we never use. Thanks to modern technology, we are absorbing more useless information, with less effort, than ever before. If you've ever spent an hour on youtube, reddit, Facebook, or my blog, you know first hand about digesting useless information. So, then, when you try to put something practical in your brain, like another language, or learning to play an instrument, you fatigue quickly, and many times, give up.

But I will not give up (cue triumphant orchestral music) and I will persevere until I have reached my goals. I will not stop fighting the evils of laziness and procrastination on the battlefields of grammar and orthography, until the sweet spoils of (4th grade level) literacy and comprehension are won. Help me Gloria - "I will survive!"

So, um, yeah, back to the reason I'm writing this post. I'm sure you can find similar or better information somewhere else on the web, but you came to me for it. That practically makes us family. Just call me Uncle Bobby B, baby! (RIP Bernie Mac). Wow, I'm just all over the place on this one. Ok! The following are 5 reasons that I think it's easier to learn a foreign language as a child.

Smaller vocab

Children know so few words. So when learning new words in another language, that object is now that word. As an adult, we like to translate, so for example, a chair is una silla in Spanish. For a child, a chair is a chair and una silla es una silla. There's no translating.

Less resistant to change

In English, we don't have to put the articles in front of every word. In Spanish, you have to some of the time, and in French is obligatory. Kids would just say OK and continue on. But adults, oh no! Why can't they just be like English? Then it would be so much easier. Why are all verbs conjugated so much? What is the deal with gender? All of these questions are mental resistance to change. The language is what it is, and you have to adapt to it, not the other way around. 

Less knowledge to look for contradictions

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point, as we know so much about our native language, that when we see something in a new language that goes against the rules or doesn't make sense the same way as in our language, it frustrates us. Why is "shellfish" not conchapez in Spanish? Makes sense, right? Only to English speakers. And the fact that b and v have the same sound in Spanish, logically, makes them redundant. But only to English speakers. We have many contradictions in our own language that we don't bat an eye at, but we learned them when we were kids.

Constantly being corrected by others

A child could be having a conversation with their parent and as they tell the story the parent is correcting their words, and the kids just repeat the new, correct way of saying it, and continue on with the story. Their parents correct them, their teachers, their older siblings, and everyone else who speaks better than they do. All day. Every day. They are in an endless cycle of improving. Unless an adult moves to a country where they don't speak his native tongue, or he asks all of his foreign language friends to correct him, he likely won't receive the same amount of feedback on his speaking as a child would.

No shame of making errors

Like in the previous point, kids are being corrected all the time and just go with it. Try correcting an adult in the the middle of their sentence. Shame, anger, and frustration set in immediately and they shut down. I'm an adult and I pay taxes! Who are you to correct me? Oh, you speak this language fluently and that gives you all the credentials necessary to critique my speaking? Ok, you win. Now I won't even try because I'm too afraid to make any more errors.

What do you think?

If you are also learning a language, how do you feel about this post? What is the hardest thing about learning a new language, for you? The easiest? Tips or pointers on how to learn faster?



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