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  • Writer's pictureIan Gibbs

Language Learning Law 2: Adults Learn Languages Better Than Children

Common sense tells us only young children can learn languages well.

After all, look at how well you learnt to speak English before you were six and look how pathetic your French was after ‘years’ of French classes at school.

But I suggest you pay less attention to ‘common sense’ and more attention to the real evidence.

The only reason why young children learn their mother tongue is they have no other option.

If they want to express themselves, ask for something, get help or just fit in with the rest of their peers, they have to do it in their mother tongue.

What’s more, their learning process is continuous. It’s full immersion 24/7.

It never stops.

But (and it’s a big but) even though the average six-year old has spent 72 months of intensive practice, their language level is still dishearteningly basic.

If you were to go to some exotic tropical island where no-one spoke English, after six years of working, socialising and interacting with the locals in the manner of your choice, your ability to communicate in their language would far exceed the capability of a native six year-old to express themselves.

Adults learn better than children.

This is because we have already acquired so many mental skills, thought processes and accumulated knowledge to learn new stuff.

Our linguistic foundations are much stronger than that of a child.

Let’s look at an example, shall we?

If I say to you that, from now on, the letters ‘zj’ together are pronounced exactly the same as ‘sh’ in English, how would you pronounce the following words?:

cazj, zjugar, fizjing, zjampoo, Englizj, ozjean, muzjroom,

As an adult, you should be able to pronounce all of them without too much effort.

I tried to teach my young kids how the letters ‘t’ and ‘h’ together are pronounced ‘th’. We worked on it for weeks yet they still struggled.

But as adults we have a vast vat of knowledge that we can dip into for help for learning new stuff.

You have decades of experiences, knowledge and ideas that can help you absorb and assimilate.

As an adult, you have a much greater capacity for learning a new language than young children do.

So don’t think that being an adult is automatically a disadvantage.

It’s not.

As an adult you have many advantages that young kids don’t, so use them and stop invent excuses!

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