By Geralde Vincent-Bancroft
Children are amazing when it comes to learning new languages. In fact, many of them pick up a new language with little to no trouble at all. Why is this? What makes children so successful at language learning? There are several reasons why children succeed easily at learning languages. Let’s take a look at some of them!
children seem to have an uncanny ability to pick up languages quickly and easily. This is likely because they haven’t yet developed the mental blocks that adults have when it comes to learning a new language. Adults often think too much about the rules of grammar and syntax, which can get in the way of actually understanding and using the language. children, on the other hand, are more likely to just go with the flow and pick up on the nuances of a new language through listening and imitating.
The science behind children learning languages easily.
There are a number of scientific reasons for this, including the fact that children’s brains are more plastic and therefore more able to adapt to new linguistic input.
This means that children’s brains are more adaptable and can more easily learn new things. For language learning, this plasticity is key. Their brains are able to quickly learn the sound patterns of a new language, as well as the grammatical rules. This ability starts to decline in early adulthood, which is why it can be more difficult for adults to learn a second language.
Another reason is that children have less developed executive functioning in their prefrontal cortex, which allows them to focus on acquiring a new language without getting bogged down in the details.
Here is how language acquisition works:
Learning depends on two types of memory: declarative and nondeclarative memory.
Declarative memory is the type of memory that enables us to remember facts and events. This memory is often described as conscious or explicit memory, because we are aware of the information that we are encoding and storing.
Semantic memory – our store of general knowledge about the world – is one example of declarative memory, as is episodic memory – our recollection of specific events from our own lives.
This type of memory doesn’t store specific facts and details like declarative memory does. Instead, it stores things like skills and habits. This is the kind of memory we use when we ride a bike or tie our shoes. We don’t have to think about how to do these things, we just do them.
Non-declarative memory also starts to form in infancy, and children start to learn language by storing pronunciation and intonation patterns in this type of memory.
This allows children to quickly learn the sounds, words, and grammar of a new language.
Difference between adults and children learning languages
Adults learning a language use more of their declarative memory. It helps them remember rule-based information such as grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure. The current language learning system based on vocabulary drills and grammar rules, reinforce this.
Children learning languages
Children learning languages use more of their non-declarative memory; meaning they learn the language in a more instinctive way. They learn the language patterns without even noticing it. They have a better feeling of what words go together, which syllables are most used just by being exposed to the language naturally.
Children do not consciously focus in order to absorb the language.
This type of memory is incredibly powerful and efficient, and it allows children to pick up new languages much more quickly than adults. Additionally, children can learn multiple languages simultaneously. Whereas adults often have difficulty juggling multiple languages, children can easily switch between them. This ability declines as we age.
Ways to bypass adults declarative memory
Studies have shown that activating the declarative memory system can suppress the activation of the non-declarative memory system.
The overall assumption is that we learn best by doing, and there’s a lot of truth to that. When we’re actively engaged in an activity, we’re more likely to pay attention to what’s going on around us and pick up new skills and knowledge.
However, when we learn through observation and experience, when exposed to new information- the new language- we can unconsciously learn a lot about it.
One of the dangers of always trying to learn specific facts and figures is that it can get in the way of this more intuitive understanding. When we’re focused on memorizing specific details- vocabulary and grammar- we may not notice the broader patterns and probabilities at play. As a result, we may not develop the same level of intuition or experienced-based understanding that we would if we simply allowed ourselves to take in new information without always trying to learn specific things.
Language learning depends largely on non-declarative memory. Languages are built on patterns and probabilities. For example, in Spanish the suffix ‘-ito’ added to any adjective means -’little’.
The best way to learn a language is to immerse oneself in it.
It may be better to try things like listening to music or watching TV in the target language.
Scientists have proven that listening to music is an effective way to disrupt declarative memory and letting the non-declarative memory take the lead. You might be killing two birds with one stone: learning the in and out of the language, and getting acquainted with the culture at the same time.
Who would have thought that something as simple as going for a short walk or jog could have such a positive impact on language learning? But it’s true!
Short bouts of physical exercise reduce the activation of the declarative memory system. It might be useful to combine a language related activity – like listening to a podcast in your target language- with a brisk walk to the corner shop.
By engaging the non-declarative system, we can more effectively learn the grammar and vocabulary of a new language.
According to recent research, just a few minutes of physical activity can help to improve language skills. The benefits are especially noticeable in tasks that require cognitive control, such as switching between different languages.
So, if you’re feeling stuck while trying to learn a new language, go for a quick walk or run – it just might help you to break through that learning plateau. And even if it doesn’t, you’ll at least get some fresh air and exercise in the process!
Moderate alcohol consumption can have some positive health benefits, but did you know that it can also help you learn a new language?
A recent study found that people who drank a moderate amount of alcohol before participating in a language learning task were better able to recall the new words they had learned. The researchers believe that this is because alcohol disrupts the declarative memory system, which is responsible for storing factual information.
This disruption appears to create a ‘looseness’ in the way we store information – activating the non-declarative system- making it more flexible and easier to access. So next time you’re feeling stuck while trying to learn a new language, crack open a beer or pour yourself a glass of wine – it just might help you break through the learning plateau.
Children have an easier time learning languages than adults. children are more likely to learn a second language if they’re exposed to it at a young age. They absorb information quickly and easily, and they’re not afraid to make mistakes.
The reasons why children learn languages better than adults are the following
First, children are less self-conscious than adults.
Second, children have less developed cognitive skills and they use their non-declarative memory when exposed to a new language.
Thus, all of these factors contribute to children’s success in learning languages. But there are some things that adults can do to quieten their declarative memory system and reap the benefits of using their non-declarative memory when learning a language. Why not try!