Kids learn faster

Adults can learn more words, and can learn to read more, and express more complex concepts in a language, but when it comes to acquiring the language, the kids do it more efficiently and more effortlessly. We can learn from them. Read about how the brain learns, read Spitzer.

10 thoughts on “Kids learn faster

  1. I have to point something out:You said that an adult and a kid, both immersed into an environment where the target language is spoken (Spanish in Spain, French in France, etc.) and all other things being equal (e.g. prior knowledge of and experience with the language, preferably none for both of them), the kid will learn the language faster.Well, yeah, if the adult doesn’t really want to learn the language and isn’t making any proper effort to do so, but if they do want to learn the language and they know what they’re doing (they know <i>how</i> to learn a language or they have an instructor who really knows how to teach it well) and they’re putting in a good deal of effort every day, even if they kid makes the same effort, the adult is going to be at a far higher level of competency in that language within the given 6 months, aren’t they?All other things being equal (prior experience, desire, allotted time, inherent intelligence and talent for language-learning, etc.), an adult will be able to reach a much higher level of overall competency in a foreign language than a child, almost every time.Is there anything that I’m missing here?Also, it was my understanding that most proper, peer-reviewed studies done on this matter supported the notion that adults actually learn languages better than children–am I wrong about that? Do you know of any studies that say the opposite?Cheers,Andrew

  2. I do not agree, regardless of what peer reviewed studies say. If a child goes to school for 6 months, and an adult works in an office. The child will, in most cases, learn faster, speak more naturally and understand better. The adult may have a larger vocabulary. The reason is the attitude of the child. Of course there may be exceptions.

  3. Ahh ok, I see what you’re saying. Yes, if you’ve got two very different environments (and therefore a LOT of different variables you’re not accounting for) then yes you might see some very different results, hence the reason I made sure to "everything being equal", that is if the child gets 3 hours per day socializing with peers in the target language, the adult gets 3 hours per day socializing with peers in the target language, if the child gets 6 hours per day of classroom instruction in the target language, the adult gets 6 hours per day of instruction in the target language, etc.What I wouldn’t do is have the child spending all day in school and the adult spend all day at the office: those are 2 very different environments with very different variables (the school environment probably would require a good deal more verbal interaction than the officer environment, yes I see what you’re saying there and I agree). My point is that I’d want to make as fair and equal a comparison as possible which would require making everything as close to even as possible.Account for as many variables as you can and makes things as equal as possible. I think, when you do that, the adult will almost always have the advantage.The only thing I see as giving a child an advantage is a <i>lack</i> of <i>bad</i> experience, that is the adult may have acquired some bad habits and bad attitudes (e.g. "I hate school and classrooms, they’re no fun and they don’t work" or "I can’t learn just by immersion, I need to learn grammar and memorize vocabulary!" etc.) that may inhibit them, that’s definitely a factor that may very well skew the results, possibly sometimes significantly.Anyway, regardless, you put out excellent quality content (that I <i>almost</i> always agree with, 😉 ) and I really enjoy reading your blog and your enthusiasm for learning languages, which I certainly share. Please keep doing what you’re doing, thank you.Cheers,Andrew

  4. All other things are rarely equal. In most cases that I have seen the child learns faster. It need not be, but it is. I do not think that a child could have put into language studies what I have put into my Russian and Czech. But then I am sort of like a child when it comes to language learning.

  5. Nice to know that my habit of jumping right into a new task without looking at any directions first may actually be beneficial!

  6. Most people prefer to jump right in without reading instructions. That is why it is best to learn a language by first getting a lot of input, focusing on comprehension and getting used to the language. The grammar rules and other detailed explanations can come later when we know what these explanations are talking about.

  7. Kids do not learn faster, but better. " What is learned in childhood is comparable to ink inscribed on fresh paper. What is learned in old age is comparable to ink inscribed on erased paper."

  8. I absolutely agree with Steve. The reason, why a child acquires any foreign language faster and better, is psychological. We as adults are losing our capability to learn subconsciously, which is one of the reasons of firm knowledge and language competence. I wish I were a child and learnt foreign languages. Of course, some adults are naturally more capable to learning languages than other and this is their individual feature. They are lucky! One thing is for sure: learning languages helps to stimulates the brain.

  9. Not only are kids programmed to learn a language, but the adults around them speak a specialized form of the language to help them along, known technically as "baby talk." For example, English final consonants tend not to be pronounced – you can determine whether whatever is there is voiced or voiceless from the length of the preceding vowel, but how do you know whether it’s "do(g)" or "do(b)" in the first place? Because you first learn that the animal is called is a "doggie" (or a "kitty") – in intervocalic position the consonant is clearly pronounced. And kids invest the time – what would your second etc. language be like if you could as many hours a day for as many years as a child? Adults may never achieve a perfect pronunciation or the automatic responses of a native, but they are certainly more efficient – in terms of time invested – at acquiring a useful amount of a language. Especially considering the teaching methods and materials adults have available – most don’t get years of one-on-one instruction from native speakers prepared to adapt their methods to the learner’s needs. – This is occasioned by just having examined "The First Arabic Reader" at Amazon and listening to the accompanying tape. The pronunciation of "j"/dzh in Arabic varies from region to region, and in Egypt it’s generally "g," but here the speaker varies from "g" to "d" to "h." Is this some kind of Alexandrian local variant? One example, but it brings back memories of the textbooks my first teacher in Prague tried with me – because they were in English – before we agreed to switch to the very thorough Arabic-for-Czech text he used in his language school classes. (The books by native Arabic speakers assumed the learner knows how the value of the – unwritten – vowels changes with position, for example. The Czech textbook was written for Czech-style instruction – listen to the teacher and copy him.) How many people have simply given up on a language because the materials they tried to learn from were so badly designed and implemented, I wonder? At least with the internet there are more options these days.

  10. Definitely best to teach children a second language during the Critical Period for language development. Thank you for sharing.

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