Myth #1 – Adult’s CAN’T learn like children do!
Many people have noticed that children learn second languages perfectly, and that adults almost never do. The conclusion that seems to have been drawn from this is that adults can’t learn like children; that somehow and for some reason, adults have lost the child’s magic!
We think that perhaps the reality lies in exactly the opposite direction and that adults have not lost some ability. but have rather gained an ability that children don’t yet have: the ability to reason, to translate, to memorize, and to analyze. This ability ‘naturally’ becomes the adult’s primary conscious method of ‘learning’. While it’s certainly invaluable for many things, this adult ability simply cannot match what a child, without it, is able to do.
So can adults do what children do? Does the ability to analyze the language mean that we can no longer learn as young children? The evidence seems to say no. Many of our students find that there are some things that the unconscious mind just does better – like learn a new language. The place for analysis is there – it just comes later, after the natural process has had the chance to do its work.
Myth #2 – ‘Practice Makes Perfect’
Just about every adult will agree with this statement. What’s most amazing about it is that children don’t practice their language! They either ‘know’ what they want to say, and they say it, or they don’t ‘know’ what they want to say, and they are quiet.* Where do they gain the ‘know’ from? They ‘know’ as a result of their experiences in that language and culture. Never from practice! And for all the practice that adults do, they still can’t match the perfection of the child!
*(While there is an early period of mimicry, it may have more to do with physiological development than with language acquisition itself. Where young children are learning a second language, this mimicry is largely absent.)
Myth #3 – Language must be ‘studied’
If it’s evident that adults ‘study’ foreign languages, it’s also just as evident that children do not study. What is it that children do then? What is it that enables them to ‘learn’ without study? They live, they look, they listen, and they learn. Children gather up experiences and simply try to understand what’s going on around them. Where there are understandable things happening around you, you learn. No matter what your age – no matter what your language. It is from just this sort of environment that language develops; automatically and naturally.
For more thoughts on this topic, read ‘The Story of Al‘.