Possible explanations for why Children do so much better at language
How often have you heard something like, “The reason that we can’t do well using a new language is that we have hard tongues”, or “Our brains don’t work like they used to.” or, “language can only be learned when you’re a child – adults can’t – period.”
The fact seems to be that analysis gets in the way of native language acquisition. Can a three year old child feel that his language development is slow? Can he think for hours on end about whether a word should be pronounced a certain way or not?
I know that if we ever hold onto any excuse, it becomes fact, based on the reality that we’re holding it up as fact. The ALG program has shown that adults can indeed become fluent in a language acquired as an adult. Apart from ALG, people all over the world have demonstrated this as well.
Perhaps, rather than holding to an excuse such as those mentioned above, or by imagining that some people are just gifted (meaning that you aren’t and thereby negating yourself from the possibility that you could become fluent in a new language) it makes more sense to realize that language fluency is the outgrowth of enough exposure to understandable experiences. Then you could start to fill up your time with gaining memorable, interesting and understandable experiences – this is much more fun than language classes anyway!
Adults often state that of course they can’t learn a new language because they’re no longer children, and they already have a language that [must] be in the way. What we’ve seen often enough is that adults actually grow language faster than children. Just not when they try to do it all manually.
I find it much better to not limit my thinking about the capacity of our brains. What I also find helpful, is to place the entire process into an age model – what is your language age? – and do things that are age appropriate. So many frustrations occur because we try to force things at the wrong time or place. This is as true for children as well as adults. In English my ability is nearing 50 years. In Thai, it’s probably around 20. That’s a fairly big difference and if I’m not sensitive to this, I’ll frustrate those around me, as well as myself!