Published 20th April 2017
If you’re ever around children, you’ll know that they are really just little people with sponge-like tendencies, especially when it comes to languages. Just as they are able to pick up naughty words spoken by adults around them, so they will absorb and mimic different languages, often seemingly without any effort. The million dollar question is, of course: how do they do that?
We’ve already discussed how adults learn a foreign language, but let’s look now at why it’s easier for children to learn languages.
Children are curious
Children’s brains are naturally very active. Any Young Learner teacher (or parent!) will testify to the overload of questions they are bombarded with every day. This curiosity means that their brains are constantly trying to make sense of their sensory world and the information they are receiving as input. Language is a feature of life that they are always exposed to so it makes sense that this is a focus of their cognitive interest.
Children communicate constantly
Children enjoy communicating. Especially when they are very young, they delight in making sounds, trying out new words and communicating with other people. For children, speaking is about making connections between their senses, developing social skills and creating relationships. All of this communication helps them learn language quickly and effectively.
Children are creative
This love for communication and talking combines with a capacity for creativity which allows a certain freedom to make mistakes. Children are not afraid to play with language even when it doesn’t make sense. This creativity gives them practice with language and through this they learn the rules of grammar, structure and pronunciation without even meaning to.
If you are teaching children, you can pay particular attention to these attributes and encourage them in your classroom. If you are teaching adults, we can try to find a way to replicate these tendencies in our adult learners. So while children may have a headstart in their natural ability to learn language, by understanding aspects of how they do this can mean that we can learn from them to become better learners as adults.