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Learning like a child learns their native

  Tags: Children
 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
49 messages over 7 pages: 13 4 5 6 7  Next >>
ExRN
Groupie
United Kingdom
Joined 1470 days ago

61 posts - 75 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, Spanish
Studies: Dutch

 
 Message 9 of 49
14 August 2015 at 3:31am | IP Logged 
Oliver Sachs did the man who mistook his wife for a hat. Good read that one. I'm not entirely sure if he
wrote anything regarding language acquisition in children. If you listen to how a child speaks through the
stages it is fascinating. When a mistake is made on an irregular verb they often use standard for
conjugation. They are, in my eyes learning through the spotting of patterns. They don't know what a verb is
or a noun, most adults where im from don't either to be fair, but they still understand rules. All done
through the noticing of patterns. I once read too that everyone is a synaesthete at birth and it slowly
diminishes with age. This is something that I still possess. So could it be the cross wiring of senses that
aids in the acquisition for younger people. It's an autistic trait to recognise patterns in things and
synaesthesia is too. Is it likely that if the brain of an individual doesn't mature in certain areas as it should,
that they keep the ability to acquire language like a child does? Lose the ability to do what the "normal"
adult can do, but keep the ability to retain information and learn concepts at an easier rate?
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emk
Diglot
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United States
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Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 10 of 49
14 August 2015 at 4:06am | IP Logged 
aokoye wrote:
That said I children learn languages differently than adults do. Trying to say otherwise is going in the face of a lot of research on just that topic.

As best I understand it, the research isn't quite that straightforward. There's still a lot of disagreement within the field. But a few things are pretty uncontroversial:

1. Children, especially young ones, learn accents better than at least 95% of adults. Pretty much all the research I've seen agrees on this, though there's some argument over exactly when accent learning starts to decline.

2. There's a decent amount of evidence that some adults have more long-term trouble with the trickier aspects of grammar. Even after decades of full-time immersion, they may still occasionally use the wrong articles and prepositions, or they may have trouble parsing complicated ambiguous clauses, or they may occasionally mess up French gender agreement. But some studies suggest that effects may be inversely correlated to years of schooling in the L2, rather than to age. And I can pretty easily find you counterexamples—adults who went from B2 to near-native in their 20s with zero formal study, and who do not appear to differ significantly from natives in conversational grammar.

3. Beyond this, the evidence for a "critical period" in language acquisition becomes more controversial. A true critical period should show a cliff-like drop in learning performance past a certain age, and not just a slow, steady decline with age (like athletic ability, for example, or an annoying number of other things).

4. Adults learning languages at a beginner level in a classroom do show very different patterns of brain activation than native speakers. But several researchers claim that highly proficient adult learners show much more native-like patterns of brain activation.

5. Starting around age 12 or so, adolescents develop abstract cognitive skills that younger children lack. This makes it much easier for them to study grammar, etc., in a more abstract fashion if they wish.

Anyway, I wish I could actually pull up more citations for you. It's a very interesting topic, but not an especially clear-cut one.

ExRN wrote:
My question is....... If I got a large collection of children's television programs from my target languages and watched them whilst cutting English out of my life as much as possible, would this work?

Your results will probably depend very greatly on your starting level. It turns out that if you take an English-speaking child and plunk them down in front of hundreds of hours of Mandarin cartoons, they will apparently learn very little Mandarin. At least in the beginning, children seem to need interaction to learn the basics of a language. (When people ask me how I learned French, I sometimes joke, "Oh, well, parents repeat stuff to their kids thousands of times; how could I not learn by overhearing it?")

Victor Hart—a really interesting guy and an occasional HTLAL participant—actually decided to try learning Mandarin from scratch by watching TV. He put in a lot of hours, and honestly, his results looked pretty slow for the first year or so.

I think the reason that this fails is because it usually doesn't provide enough "comprehensible input." If all you hear is a wall of incomprehensible babble, it's very hard for your brain to actually learn anything.

Now, once you reach A2 or B1, this changes. With luck, you start to be able to understand the easier parts of TV dialog, at least for some shows. And once I reached that point, I had tremendously good results by watching season after season of various TV series.

The real trick, I propose, is finding a way to turn TV into comprehensible input in the very beginning. Sprachprofi tried this with Japanese with truly impressive results. I tried replicating her experiment with Spanish, and it went really well—but my results weren't as good as hers, perhaps because she's an amazing language learner.

Overall, if you can find mostly comprehensible input, I suspect that learning mostly "naturally" from native materials could work well for you. You'll probably need to do some other stuff, too, such as talking to people and maybe at least a bit of study now and then. But I would discourage you from trying to learn from incomprehensible input. We've seen a bunch of people try it, and most of them give up after 500 to a 1000 hours or so, with minimal results. But again, research suggests that kids don't learn very well from incomprehensible input, either.
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Cavesa
Triglot
Senior Member
Czech Republic
Joined 3084 days ago

3277 posts - 6777 votes 
Speaks: Czech*, FrenchC2, EnglishC1
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 Message 11 of 49
14 August 2015 at 4:22am | IP Logged 
Children do not learn only by observing, listening and applying what they've absorbed. It is a needed part of the process, that much is true. But they've got a group of people (most importantly parents, but the rest of the family and whole surroundings count as well) devoted to teaching them to speak. They get constant input, constant encouragement, constant practice, constant corrections. For years. And they are extremely motivated, their whole life depends on learning their native language, they get frustrated a lot when they are beginning to speak and noone understands them. It is not an easy process, it takes several years to get to normal sentences with mistakes, much more to speaking more or less like an adult.

That natural process goes on without "boring study" until the children go to school. Suddenly, there are even the grammar rules, ortograph and all that stuff going on as well. Many language skills are being actively learnt and it takes time and efforts. The children are learning lots of vocabulary. In context, true, but it is still basically vocabulary learning (mitochondria, gravity, execution,...), they are learning how to write properly something that makes sense, how to speak in various settings more formally and so on.

Trully, most "learn like a child" methods and theories are just a way to sell expensive crappy products, like Rosetta Stone to people who have little experience learning a language and are likely to blame themselves for lack of progress, not the product.

That being sad, using a lot of native material and video is an awesome way to learn a language. Quite a lot of us have progressed significantly thanks to tv series (I recommend for example emk's log for reference). It doesn't necessarily need to be stuff aimed at children, especially if you find it boring. Cutting down the time spent in your native language is an awesome decision as well. I have moved vast majority of my "alone fun time" (books, tv series and movies, pc games, internet browsing and participating) in foreign languages long ago and it was a right decision.

You can as well learn without studying grammar explicitly, some people just observe and get it right after some time. However, majority of us can learn much more efficiently while combining the tons of normal input with a normal grammar resource (popular choice for Spanish is Gramatica de uso series, or I am using Klipp und Klar for German), and other supplementary tools.

At first sight, adults appear to be at serious disadvantage compared to children. It is true when it comes learning the pronunciation and accent. And certainly, it is easier for children to remember new things than for senior people. But children do not know yet how to learn efficiently. They do not get any "vocabulary discount" from already knowing a related language. They haven't known any other grammar system to relate the new knowledge to and compare. We, adults, have got some advantages as well. The grammar books, wordlists, srs, courses... all that are not obstacles, those are tools that can make the path easier, so that we don't need 10 or more years to become proficient speakers. Which tools to choose, that is an individual informed decision we can make while learning foreign languages. The kids learning their first one cannot.
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Cavesa
Triglot
Senior Member
Czech Republic
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 Message 12 of 49
14 August 2015 at 4:23am | IP Logged 
Ah, I wrote too slowly, my post was writen before reading emk's.
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ExRN
Groupie
United Kingdom
Joined 1470 days ago

61 posts - 75 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, Spanish
Studies: Dutch

 
 Message 13 of 49
14 August 2015 at 4:23am | IP Logged 
Emk, thank you for that excellent in depth contribution. The problem I have is that I am not a very good
people person. I lack social skills to a great level so interaction with people that speak my target languages
is difficult in a real world scenario. My passive skills in Spanish and Italian a fairly good in that I can
understand a lot of things through context. My learning requires that I learn by watching / listening and not
really by doing. I really don't understand how the child brain can be so different at that cut off point. Are we
as humans supposed to learn what skills we need and then at age 12 just go off and do them?
With regards to accents, I believe I read somewhere that accent acquisition is connected to the ability to
mimic facial expressions. Maybe because a child hasn't got their own set of facial expressions set in stone
they are able to adapt to copy what they see and what they hear? Not sure how that works for blind people
though. You said about putting a child in front of a TV that already knows English and them not being able
to pick up the second language...... What if, and I know this is immoral, we were to put a child in a room
with no verbal communication presented to them except for a TV that is playing programs from an
obscure language. Do you think that would get them communicating in it?
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ExRN
Groupie
United Kingdom
Joined 1470 days ago

61 posts - 75 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, Spanish
Studies: Dutch

 
 Message 14 of 49
14 August 2015 at 4:35am | IP Logged 
Cavesa, thank you for the input. A lot of what you say makes perfect sense. I do disagree on you saying
that we acquire language through primary care givers and extended family though. My family are
completely inarticulate and from a young age people have stated that I speak "funny". Not in the sense that
I'm a comedian but in that I used words that are far from what a normal child would use that was brought
up in the area that I am from. I do genuinely believe that I picked up a lot of my vocabulary and speaking
style passively from things like radio and television. Even when I speak now to people that I don't know
and they ask "where are you from? " and I tell them "I'm from here, born and bred". They don't believe a
word. Maybe, just maybe, all children have different learning styles just as adults do. As you state,
everyone has a learning preference and maybe that is ingrained from birth or even before.
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Cavesa
Triglot
Senior Member
Czech Republic
Joined 3084 days ago

3277 posts - 6777 votes 
Speaks: Czech*, FrenchC2, EnglishC1
Studies: Spanish, German, Italian

 
 Message 15 of 49
14 August 2015 at 4:58am | IP Logged 
Yeah, I learnt tons of "funny" vocabulary for a child of my age, region and century as well as I started to read much earlier than other children, sure there are other sources than just family.

But my point was that children do not learn just by "passive" activities, they get tons of corrected practice opportunities 24/7. And that the motivation is much stronger than motivation of vast majority of adult learners.

Emk explained excellently the differences of using video as a learning tool at different points of learning. If you are not a total beginner, I'd say your plan to learn mostly from watching such material is not bad. The only point I'd be worried about is the choice of material. Things for children are not necessarily easy (or fun/enough to keep you from burning out). And they don't necessarily teach the right language, you might wanna choose something for adults right away. To make the learning curve less steep, you can start with dubbed shows (the translations and dubbings tend to be easier than the originals) and than continue with something easier up to art and complicated material. If you do a bit of searching in the forums, you will find a lot of examples of such a process.

Why are the children's brains so different when it comes to language learning? Because children are not just smaller adults, they are different in most aspects. The first few years are critical for the brain development, there are processes that slow down and stop and never get activated again. The cortex plasticity is immense, there are still new neurons being created very early in the childhood (the only such reproduction and differentiation of neurons in adults happens in the hippocampal area and only in very limited amounts, according to today's science), the chemical coctail of mediators, neuromodulators, growth factors, hormones and all that stuff is different from that of an adult. There is more than just one borderline and various authors do not agree entirely on them. The first, most important and most widely acknowledged critical age comes around 3 years of postnatal life. Damage to brain development done to such a small child is very likely to leave huge consequences. Children who had suffered from low amounts and quality of nutrition and stimulation (including language exposure and psychological stimulation and encouragement) for the first few years of their lives are highly unlikely to reach their full intellectual potential they were predisposed to by their genotype. Another such critical point is around 12 years of age. And yes, we are supposed to have learnt the necessary skills by then from the point of view of the evolutionary biology. During vast majority of the history of the human species, you become adult at 12-15 years of age and died by 25-35.
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aokoye
Diglot
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United StatesRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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Speaks: English*, German
Studies: Dutch, Norwegian, Japanese

 
 Message 16 of 49
14 August 2015 at 7:35am | IP Logged 
I should note, to perhaps everyone, that I was not saying that children learn more efficiently or better
than adults, I was saying that they learn differently. As in, the brains process the language that
they're learning in a different way than that of adults. Children's brains are not developmentally the
same as those of an adult (frankly a 20 year old's brain isn't the same as a 25 year old's brain - see
recent research about frontal lobe development). I'm honestly really quite confused as to what the
controversy is over this.

That doesn't mean that adults can't learn foreign languages - it means that their/our brains do it
differently.

Edited by aokoye on 14 August 2015 at 7:35am



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