But when you’re a child, you seem to soak up language like a sponge. You don’t need that drive and focus to learn it.
The adult memory – or the lack thereof – is often blamed for this disparity. And the truth is the ability to retain information slows with age. Moreover, different languages have different sounds, which are easier to master at a young age, as the mouth is still forming and speech still developing.
However, though it’s a smart idea to become bilingual as a child, some of us don’t have that opportunity. That doesn’t mean that, as adults, we should pass off language learning as “too difficult.” Instead, we must take a leaf out of the child’s playbook and learn a language like children do.
Learning as a Child
An article published by Patricia K. Kuhl in the journal, Mind Brain Education, entitled “Early Language Learning and Literacy: Neuroscience Implications for Education,” states that language learning in children is a highly social activity.
“There is evidence that children’s early mastery of language requires learning in a social context,” Kuhl writes. “Research shows that young children rely on what has been called ‘statistical learning,’ a form of implicit learning that occurs as children interact in the world, to acquire the language spoken in their culture. However, new data also indicate that children require a social setting and social interaction with another human being to trigger their computations skills to learn from exposure to language.”
Believe it or not, this is the same thing adults need in order to learn a language quickly: a social setting and social interaction. Even more so, we need the confidence that a child does and the willingness to make mistakes.
This is the science behind learning a second language.
Do these rules really apply to adults, as well?
Learning as an Adult
Meet Benny, the Irish polygot.
He’s the author of Fluent in 3 Months and says that although he’s not inherited the so-called “language gene” and isn’t particularly gifted with languages, he’s been able to become fluent in seven languages, simply by having the confidence to speak.
Benny met a man in Spain who changed his life. In his own words: “He explained that to speak a language, you’ve just got to start speaking it. There’s no magic, he said. You only need a willingness to make mistakes.”
This is actually the secret to learning anything. Think about it: whether it was riding your bike, mastering an instrument, or playing a sport, weren’t you willing enough to just give it a go, even if you weren’t that confident in your abilities to begin with?
The self-described “fun-loving Irish guy and full-time globe trotter” has taught thousands of language learners his approach to becoming competent in a language quickly.
“My mission in life is giving people permission to make mistakes,” he says on his site. “The more mistakes you make, the faster you become a confident language learner.”
Science and practical application turn up the same results. The equation to language learning, whether young or old, is as simple as confidence + speaking + making mistakes = learning through exposure.
This month, my posts will offer resources, language learning sites, and advice on how to plug into this equation and get rolling on a new language.