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Adults vs. Kids learning

 Language Learning Forum : Philological Room Post Reply
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Serpent
Octoglot
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Russian Federation
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 Message 57 of 77
18 May 2013 at 8:09pm | IP Logged 
I think under the ideal conditions adults would learn better than children. These would be unlimited time, money, a very strong interest in languages, an understanding and interest in linguistics, a lack of desire to do activities that involve L1 or just no language use, and finally the personality traits that have been discussed here (risk-taking, throwing away the L1 (and fluent L2!) framework). Not necessarily in the TL country, imo - there's the minimal time and the optimal time, the rest can be spent in your home country if you create your own immersion.
(basically, make me perfect, take away everything I do in my L1, and give me more money :P)

Quote:
I've never met anybody who regrets learning French or any foreign language as a child.

Nobody ever regrets learning any prestigious language, full stop. And those who aren't bilinguals but diglots (using the forum's terminology), if they are not fluent in English, might feel that there's no space for English in their heads and they'll never be good at it.

Quote:
I've met many adults who regret not having learned French or paying more attention during French classes when they were young.

Anyone who's taken classes and not learned as much from them as they could regrets this, regardless of the age. And school classes are typically free.
But don't forget that many independent learners regret wasting their time with classes when they could've learned more on their own schedule and in their own style.


Edited by Serpent on 18 May 2013 at 11:02pm

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Serpent
Octoglot
Senior Member
Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
Joined 5685 days ago

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 Message 58 of 77
19 May 2013 at 12:45am | IP Logged 
Also, I think the motivation "I wish I had learned French as a child, it would be useful NOW and I don't have enough time" is more common than "I wish I had learned it as a child so I could speak with a native accent". Of course for most people it's a combination of the two[-three] factors, the time and talent they THINK they don't have. And we know it's possible to find the time.
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Darklight1216
Diglot
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United StatesRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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 Message 59 of 77
19 May 2013 at 1:31am | IP Logged 
I think it's almost always better to start learning something as soon as possible (yes, I know there are exceptions), but that is neither here nor there. I am no longer a child, have no children, and do not want any so it's really irrelevant for me. All I can do is make the most of what I do have.

Serpent wrote:

Quote:
I've met many adults who regret not having learned French or paying more attention during French classes when they were young.

Anyone who's taken classes and not learned as much from them as they could regrets this, regardless of the age. And school classes are typically free.
But don't forget that many independent learners regret wasting their time with classes when they could've learned more on their own schedule and in their own style.

You're right about that. I am living proof. I wish that I had never been forced to spend several years of my childhood sitting through a terrible language curriculum. It is the sole reason that I refuse to learn a very useful and very easily available language even now.



Edited by Darklight1216 on 19 May 2013 at 1:31am

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emk
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 Message 60 of 77
19 May 2013 at 5:40am | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
A) I have never met an adult learner of French who has achieved native-like proficiency and particularly phonological nativeness.

Phonological nativeness is nice, certainly, but I don't see it as essential. I live in a university town, and there's tons of non-native English speakers who came here in their 20s with B2/C1 skills and very strong accents. Once they've been here for 10 years of graduate school, research, raising families and so on, they almost all have an excellent command of English. Many of them speak as fast and fluently as a native speaker, and it's rare to hear them make a grammar mistake.

Sure, almost none of them are "phonologically native". If you have good ears, you can hear slightly colored vowels, slightly foreign intonations, and so on. But I can find any number of native English speakers with far stronger accents. English has hundreds of exotic native accents, so what's the problem with a few slightly French vowels here and there?

Edited by emk on 20 May 2013 at 2:39pm

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s_allard
Triglot
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 Message 61 of 77
19 May 2013 at 6:35am | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
s_allard wrote:
A) I have never met an adult learner of French who has achieved native-like proficiency and particularly phonological nativeness.

Phonological nativeness is nice, certainly, but I don't see it as essential. I live in a university town, and there's tons of non-native English speakers who came here in their 20s with B2/C1 skills and very strong accents. Once they been here for 10 years of graduate school, research, raising families and so on, they almost all have an excellent command of English. Many of them speak as fast and fluently as a native speaker, and it's rare to hear them make a grammar mistake.

Sure, almost none of them are "phonologically native". If you have good ears, you can hear slightly colored vowels, slightly foreign intonations, and so on. But I can find any number of native English speakers with far stronger accents. English has a hundreds of exotic native accents, so what's the problem with a few slightly French vowels here and there?

The questions isn't whether phonological nativeness is essential or not. Or whether various native accents are stronger or more objectionable than a foreign accent. I am on record here at HTLAL as stating many times that phonological nativeness is not very important. I even believe that a slight accent can be charming and advantageous.

Like @emk, I have seen foreign adults improve their language skills immensely, especially in an academic environment where considerable emphasis is placed on language performance. At the same time, immigrant adults who are not placed in such a stimulating environment will not show such improvement in their linguistic skills? Is this surprising? It looks like simple sociology of language learning to me.

As I review the tenor of the thread here, I get the feeling that many people think that I believe that only children can learn foreign languages and that adults are doomed to failure. What can be further from the truth? If that were my position, I wouldn't be here at HTLAL.

My fundamental position is that second language acquisition, like native language acquisition, is fundamentally a social phenomenon, whether we are adults or children.

Why is childhood usually the best time for the acquisition of other languages? There may be a neurological factor insofar as phonology is concerned. But the fundamental reason is that the most favourable conditions are present at that time. What are those favourable conditions? In my opinion, these include:
1. Schooling in the language, i.e. acquisition of knowledge through the language
2. Socialization in the language, i.e. intimate interaction with native peers
3. Massive exposure to media and culture in the language.

These very same factors are usually what is lacking at an adult age. And when they are present, as in an academic environment or in romantic relationships, language performance improves.

When people here say that under ideal conditions adults can learn as well as children, they are right. If--and it is a big if--you can reproduce the elements that are conducive to learning languages in childhood, adults could probably learn just as well as children. These are the so-called ideal conditions that some people talk about.

But that is what is so unlikely. Adults can't typically play in a school courtyard with other adults everyday. They aren't in school in the target languages. And so on.

The end result is that adults have a harder time learning a language than children.

This is exactly what most parents --but obviously not all--know intuitively. They see around them all the time that the adults with the best foreign language skills have started early and in the best cases have attended school in the language. Witness the vast number of foreign students, especially Asian, in American and Canadian schools. Witness the teaching of English to children around the world and especially in Asia.

It's just that simple.




Edited by s_allard on 19 May 2013 at 3:31pm

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Medulin
Tetraglot
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 Message 62 of 77
19 May 2013 at 8:28am | IP Logged 
I wish I had learned Chinese characters in elementary school and in high school, like Chinese children do.
50% of their native language learning is character drill.
Instead, we had German and Latin, languages which didn't appeal to me then, and which I don't like now either.
Please make Mandarin compulsory in Croatian schools instead of German and Latin, relics of the old Hapsburg monarchy influence (which Croatia was a part of, for 600 years).

On Sinosplice.com, they recommended that Mandarin be learned from an early age,
because if you start learning it as an adult, even after 10 years of learning (in China!) you won't be at a near-native level, especially when it comes to writing and reading.

Edited by Medulin on 19 May 2013 at 8:37am

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beano
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 Message 63 of 77
19 May 2013 at 10:18am | IP Logged 
In some ways, kids who are plonked down in another country are forced to learn the language. They have to
attend school for around 30 hours per week and this entire experience takes place in a new tongue. They
have to use this language from the outset in order to make friends as nobody in the schoolyard is going to
switch to English, Spanish or whatever. Adults aren't usually exposed to this type of intense learning
environment.

But there are kids who fail spectacularly to learn a language abroad. Countless thousands of army brats are
testament to this. Remove the schooling experience and their progress nosedives. Kids who go to an
international school where classes are taught in English sometimes make decent progress in the native
language of the country, but no more than an adult who works mainly in English and has to grapple here and
there with the host language.


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Lone_Wolf
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 Message 64 of 77
20 May 2013 at 7:02am | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
And I'll take back that quote that I sarcastically attributed to @Lone Wolf.


Thank You s_allard. :-)

Quote:
Also, I must eat a bit of crow here. I was wrong. I see now that there are some parents on this planet who do believe that languages are not best learned when young. @Lone Wolf is one of them.


It looks like you and I are trading places because I am about to eat a big heaping of crow myself. I think I might be wrong on this issue. I think I'll have to recant my earlier views about this. I am now saying that It Is Much, MUCH BETTER and More Preferable to start learning languages when one is still in grade school.

There is One Key Advantage that a child will ALWAYS have over an adult and there is absolutely nothing any adult can do about it. That advantage is TIME!!

I am not simply talking about more time on their hands because they don't have the same responsibilities as a working adult does (although that is one advantage in their favor as I had already pointed out earlier in this thread). What I mean is that due to their extremely young age, they naturally and by default have waaaaayyy more time to absorb as much of the language as they possibly can.

Let me explain; To truly Master a foreign language or at least reach native level fluency takes a very, very long time. A 40, 50 or 60 year old would more than likely not have the time (i.e. years) that is required to attain mastery or native level fluency of a foreign language. A 5, 6 or 10 year old child, on the other hand, have nothing but time. Compared to an average working adult, children appear to have an eternity to master foreign languages. It takes time to organically absorb into one's being the intricacies and minutae detail of grammar, usage, contexts, shades of meaning, synonyms, antonyms, standard vs. slang, etc.

Take me for example; I am now exactly 40 years of age. If a 10 year old child and myself were to embark upon learning Turkish today, that 10 year old child would master Turkish before me. In fact, I am not guaranteed to master that language at all. I could get stricken with dementia, Alzheimer's or an Aneurism which will put a complete halt to my language learning. Even if I were to live to see 80 or 90, I STILL will not be able to collect, internalize and absorb the same amount of vocabulary as that child. If that child and myself were each able to learn 1,000 Turkish words per year, then that child would have amassed 40,000 vocabulary words by the time he/she reaches the age of 50 whereas I would only have 1,000 words under my belt at the same age because I got started way, way, way too late. I know the average human being doesn't actively use a 40,000 word vocabulary on a regular basis, but I believe it is said that an average person has a 3,000 to 5,000 active vocabulary and 10,000 to 30,000 passive vocabulary. Whatever the case, I'll never be able to catch up to that child when it comes to having a certain amount of vocab by the time I reach 50. I waited too long and started too late. I should have jumped on it when I was still in grade school.

So, on that note I have to throw myself in the same camp as s_allard. Even though I still don't think there is a difference between a 38 year old brain and a 10 year old brain in language learning capacity, I absolutely CANNOT underestimate the importance of TIME and how much of that is needed if one wishes to truly master a foreign language or attain native level fluency in it; and a child will always have that advantage over an adult language learner. So I'm with you s_allard, the sooner the better.

If I or any other adult here wish to master a language other than our mother tongue or reach the same level of fluency in another language as we have in our native language, we need lots and lots and lots of time for that language to be naturally absorbed by us. I will need as much or almost as much time with that language as I have had with English which is a really, really, really long time. I will need to use it, come in contact with and hear it on a 24/7 basis for at least a decade minimum to even approach the idea of being on the road towards gaining native level proficiency in it.

Children have one up on us old heads in this regard.

s_allard, I concede. :-)


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