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Adults vs. Kids learning

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emk
Diglot
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United States
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2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 41 of 77
16 May 2013 at 7:19pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
What's wrong with this picture? I take @emk's word that he speaks better French than his children. Although the children have spoken French with their mother, have they attended school entirely in French? Are their playmates French-speaking? How much television have they watched in French? To me this sounds like the typical heritage language situation where children often develop limited linguistic skill (but with good pronunciation) limited to the home environment.

Which is pretty much exactly my point. Both heritage speakers and typical adult learners have the option of speaking another language instead of learning. And in practice, neither group is likely to reach a useful level. Seriously, when you look at heritage learners who succeed, you find that either they think that learning languages is great fun, or that they have no choice. These are also the only two groups of adults who reliably succeed.

s_allard wrote:
To make things even clearer, let's ship the entire family off to China for three years because @emk has obtained a visiting position at a prestigious university. The children go to a local Chinese school after some intensive Mandarin instruction during the summer. It's rough but they get lots of tutoring and support. @emk is also making a lot of effort to learn Mandarin.

Assuming I'm hypothetically working for a university, either (a) I'm working in English, or (b) I'm somehow speaking C1 Mandarin or better. In the former case, I would have only minimal incentives to learn the language, especially compared to a high school student in full immersion desperately trying to make friends. Sure, I'd learn some Mandarin, but it wouldn't be my number one priority.

All I ask is that if we're going to compare adults with kids, we need to properly control for (1) the quantity of comprehensible exposure, (2) the need to communicate, and (3) the degree of what researchers call "integrative motivation" (that is, how badly the language learner wants to be a full member of an L2 peer group). Far too many people, including scientists, compare apples and oranges.

Fuenf_Katzen wrote:
If I remember correctly, emk made a great jump within only a few months (for some reason I'm remembering three?). That's a great amount of progress in a short period of time, and shows that adults can and do learn extremely well when they're given the time, motivation, and desire.

In four months of moderately intense full-time work, I went from roughly A2 to a respectable score on the DELF B2. It's possible that I had latent B1 listening skills when I started, but if so, those skills only applied to my wife, and only when she was speaking to the kids. Since then, I've been gradually meandering in the general direction of C1, mostly focusing on comprehension (which has improved dramatically). Depending on how well business goes this summer, I may try to take another month or two this fall and push like mad to reach full professional fluency. My ultimate goal is to be able to do custom software development for monolingual French entrepreneurs, which seems like a nice linguistic challenge.


Edited by emk on 16 May 2013 at 8:43pm

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Lone_Wolf
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United States
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60 posts - 117 votes 
Speaks: English*

 
 Message 42 of 77
16 May 2013 at 9:25pm | IP Logged 
schoenewaelder wrote:
I assume you are under 38. Speaking as a post 38er, I would give my right-lobe to have my 18 year-old brain back.


There are no functional brain differences between a mentally healthy 18 year old brain and a mentally healthy 38+ brain. The only three advantages an average 18 year old would have over an average 38+ year old are more than likely less stress, less worries and more time on their hands.

Give an 18 year old person a career or full-time job, bills, mortgage, school loans, car payments and a boss he would love to see get hit by a couple of fast moving cars and I'll bet you every last penny that I have in the bank that person would have a really difficult time learning and retaining a foreign language.

Conversely, take an average 38+ year old, free up PLENTY of time, take away ALL of the stress, worries and other things in life wearing him down mentally and I'll take out a loan just to bet you again that he will have a much, Much, MUCH better time in learning and retaining a foreign language than that 18 year old person above.

When it comes to learning foreign languages, I would have to say that a mentally healthy 70 or 80 year old filthy rich billionaire with not a care in the world has very significant advantages over this below middle class 40 year old with a whole mountain load of problems and worries wearing me down. :-(
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Lone_Wolf
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 Message 43 of 77
16 May 2013 at 9:40pm | IP Logged 
Something I wish to add to this discussion which is age is NOT a factor when it comes to what may be the #1 method of learning a foreign language and becoming fluent in it. IMMERSION. Take an 18 year old who is learning French and a 40+ year old who is also learning French and put them both in Paris or Marseille and it is now officially Even-Steven, provided neither one of them is mentally unhealthy (stroke, alzheimer's, schizophrenia, metal plate, etc.)

I think living in the environment in which the language I am studying is spoken by everyone 24/7 will greatly nullify those other things I said are weighing me down mentally. My rent, car not, bills and my work would all have a very significantly LESS EFFECT on me if I were living in the country which speaks the language I am studying.

I'll say it again...there is NOTHING to prevent a mentally healthy 40, 50, 60+ year old from becoming as equally proficient in a foreign language as a mentally healthy 18 year old. If that average 40+ year old could find a way to migrate to a place speaking his target language OR get rid of the things that are wearing on him mentally (stress, bills, work, etc.) then he or she could prove to a lot of other naysayers that the idea of learning a foreign language becomes increasingly difficult as you age is COMPLETELY BOGUS!! :-p
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montmorency
Diglot
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United Kingdom
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 Message 44 of 77
17 May 2013 at 11:42am | IP Logged 
There is one sense in which age probably plays a part, and I don't mean physical decay or
otherwise, but that the older people get, the more set in their ways they tend to become,
and are perhaps less likely to take on challenges or to take risks, e.g. social risks.

Edited by montmorency on 17 May 2013 at 11:47am

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s_allard
Triglot
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Canada
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Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 
 Message 45 of 77
17 May 2013 at 1:04pm | IP Logged 
As we pursue in our own fashion this debate that has consumed and still consumes the scientific community, I think we are mixing up two distinct issues:

A. Are there neurological and physiological factors that determine an optimum period for the acquisition of additional languages?

B. What psycho-sociological factors determine ultimate attainment of additional language proficiency in adults?

The very reason that we are even having this debate is the basic observation that nearly all highly proficient and native-sounding adult speakers of a second language have acquired their skills through some combination of early age, schooling in the language, being brought up in a bilingual family environment and living in the country of the language.

I want to emphasize the importance of phonological accuracy and fluency here because they seems to be the center of the discussion on the existence of a critical period. We're not talking about vocabulary or writing ability.

At the same time, we all observe that very few adult language learners come close to native-like proficiency. And more importantly, proficiency--and again fluency and phonological accuracy--is a function of immersion (i.e. schooling, working, living) of some form and significant personal relationships-especially marriage or dating- with speakers of the target language.

We see this all the time in the immigrant communities around us. We see this in foreign students and academics.We see this in missionaries. Parents understand this, and those who have the means make sure that their children are exposed to second languages at an early age.

I have seen Youtube videos of parents spending a fortune on language tutors for very young children in the belief that this is the best time to lay the foundation that will last forever. It seems kind of freaky to me have a 6-year old child exposed systematically to 5 or more languages, but maybe the parents are on to something.

I have written this before in another thread: Is there a parent on this planet who believes that there it is useless to expose a child to a foreign language at an early age because languages are best learned later in life?

As I have said earlier in this thread, much of this debate is pointless for us as language learners. Which one of us would not love to have been exposed to any of our target languages when we were young? I certainly wish my dad has been a diplomat and that our family had lived all over the world. But that was not to be. So I'm making do with the internet, classes, books, tapes, Skype and language meetups. I wish I had a spouse for every one of my target languages, but such is not the case.



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s_allard
Triglot
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Canada
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Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
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 Message 46 of 77
17 May 2013 at 5:09pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
...
All I ask is that if we're going to compare adults with kids, we need to properly control for (1) the quantity of comprehensible exposure, (2) the need to communicate, and (3) the degree of what researchers call "integrative motivation" (that is, how badly the language learner wants to be a full member of an L2 peer group). Far too many people, including scientists, compare apples and oranges.

...

Of course one should compare apples with apples. But I don't necessarily agree with the criteria given here. If we are trying to isolate the factor of biological age, we want to eliminate all other factors or confounds that make the results hard to interpret. Nobody really disputes that languages are best learned at an earlier age. The question is why.

Is it really age? Why is the acquisition of phonology particularly sensitive to this early period? Maybe it's the development of working memory. Or it's more the sociological factors distinguish learning as a child from learning as an adult.

We have all seen immigrant families where the young children acquire the host language phonology very quickly whereas the parents retain an accent all their lives. Is it age or something else? What we see of course is that the children are growing up in the host language, i.e. schooling, social networks, social activities, media exposure, etc. This is usually quite different from the experience of the parents.

But even if biological age is not all what it is thought to be, the plain truth is that for all the above reasons, a language is best learned at an early age. If you start learning a language as an adult, the likelihood of attaining native-like proficiency is extremely remote. This may be due to stress from your mortgage payments and credit card bills rather than age, but the results are the same.


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tarvos
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5310 posts - 9398 votes 
Speaks: Dutch*, English, Swedish, French, Russian, German, Italian, Norwegian, Mandarin, Romanian, Afrikaans
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 Message 47 of 77
17 May 2013 at 5:19pm | IP Logged 
Quote:
Nobody really disputes that languages are best learned at an earlier age. The
question is why.


The statement. Loaded, it is.

To your post I have nothing to say but: correlation is not causation.

Edited by tarvos on 17 May 2013 at 5:20pm

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Lone_Wolf
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Speaks: English*

 
 Message 48 of 77
17 May 2013 at 9:55pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
Nobody really disputes that languages are best learned at an earlier age. The question is why.

Is it really age? Why is the acquisition of phonology particularly sensitive to this early period?


I categorically dispute the very bogus idea that languages ARE BEST LEARNED at an earlier age. It is my opinion that languages ARE BEST LEARNED under certain ideal conditions and by use of ideal resources REGARDLESS of the person's age.

As to your question WHY the acquisition of phonology may come easier to children; I think it is due to the lack of total interference of another language. But we adults must somehow bypass the phonological interference of the language(s) we grew up speaking.

A 5 or 6 year old child who is growing up in a bilingual Spanish and English family and environment is not yet fluent in either language and therefor there is not interference of either language upon the other. If that same child grows up speaking only one of those two languages and decides to actively learn the other at 21 or 22 years of age then there is going to be some phonological interference of the language he or she grew up speaking. I believe another poster said it best that as adults we are somewhat "set in our ways" and those "ways" in which we are set can (and often DO) interfere with foreign language acquisition.

If an adult foreign language student can find a way to bypass the phonological interference of his/her mother tongue then he/she can achieve the same phonological results that 5 or 6 year old child received and for the same reason (completely nullifying the phonological interference/influence of another language). A few years in a country where the student's target language is spoken 24/7 can help tremendously to eliminate this along with a deliberate, concerted effort at phonological accuracy of the language that is studied.


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