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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: 1 24 5 6 7  Next >>
Senior Member
United StatesRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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235 posts - 453 votes 
Speaks: English*, German
Studies: Dutch, Norwegian, Japanese

 Message 17 of 49
14 August 2015 at 7:37am | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
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

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.

Wouldn't all of those points point to the fact that children learn languages differently than adults?
Note that different does not mean more efficient.
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Senior Member
Czech Republic
Joined 3439 days ago

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Speaks: Czech*, FrenchC2, EnglishC1
Studies: Spanish, German, Italian

 Message 18 of 49
14 August 2015 at 4:12pm | IP Logged 
I actually wonder why so many people are that obcessed with the child learning process as the ideal one. That is pure nonsense. You can learn a language well as an adult too, just differently. However, there is one kind of situation, that will make the adult learner similar to the child and that is emmigrating to a foreign country and having to learn by immersion fast enough to survive. While I know nothing about the brain activation in that particular situation (the brain is still different from that of a child), the motivation is just as critical as that of a child learning their native language and many of the resources and methods are similar as well. And adults immigrants are more likely to go through the "child like" sequence of improving the language (basically, they get more and more proficient at communication while making tons of grammar mistakes at first), while the adults learning in a more typical setting (either at home or in the coutry, with courses, grammars etc.) are going through a different path of learning the language correctly at first and growing more proficient and fluent over time.
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Senior Member
Russian Federation
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4 sounds
Speaks: Russian*, English, FinnishC1, Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese
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 Message 19 of 49
14 August 2015 at 11:45pm | IP Logged 
I also started a wikia article about the alternatives to traditional grammar learning :)
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Senior Member
Joined 2874 days ago

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Speaks: Cantonese*, English, Mandarin
Studies: French

 Message 20 of 49
15 August 2015 at 7:13pm | IP Logged 
I'm not a scientist or researcher so can't say if the adult brain is wired differently. The problem of learning a second language is to understand the words & phrases in the native context. If you have to translate every sentence from your native language, you are going to find mistakes.

In French we distinguish between "il est" and "c'est" but in English both are translated as "it is". "C'est un crayon" for "it is a pencil" and "il est français" for "he is French". Part of learning a language is to pick up enough vocabulary. The other part is to be able to construct sentences in the local context. The best way is to start thinking in a language without translating back and forth between your native language.

Watching a lot of children's programs on TV is a start. You can also watch a lot of reality shows like "America's Got Talent" or "Britain's Got Talent". I like the Chinese version "中国达人秀". They usually have a fixed format with the contestants introducing themselves, where they are from and what they are going to perform which makes the dialog easy to pick up.
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United States
Joined 2223 days ago

17 posts - 44 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: Russian

 Message 21 of 49
16 August 2015 at 1:07am | IP Logged 
I just wanted to echo that L1 and L2 acquisition are completely different. Kids learn
their first language without trying. They don't need to be corrected (it does nothing)
and they can't not learn their L1 if they have input. A child could refuse to speak,
but they can't refuse to learn. It's obviously very different with adults.

I've talked with generative linguists who claim that L2 acquisition is nothing but a
parlor trick. When you learn an L2 you're learning to approximate sounds and build a
framework for the grammar that can account for the data. You can get really good at
making the sounds and learning the grammatical "rules", but you're only speaking in
something that is similar to your target L2 (i.e. if you're studying English you can
learn to speak English-like, but not English). Even if your L1 has the same phonemes
as your L2, there will still be microvariation between these sounds, and you'll never
understand the syntax like a native, no matter how many grammar drills you do. The
closer you look at a language you learn as an adult, the more obvious it will be that
you're not a native speaker. At the surface you can pick the right case or whatever,
but when you're at the "atomic" level, you can't understand. This isn't to say that
you can't be extremely functional in a foreign language, but you can't know an L2 like
your L1.

People who work in acquisition aren't as pessimistic I think, but it's not really
contested that L1 and L2 acquisition are different and if you want to learn an L2, you
cannot learn it like a kid.
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Senior Member
United States
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Speaks: English*, German
Studies: Dutch, French

 Message 22 of 49
16 August 2015 at 1:07am | IP Logged 
I don't hear this pointed out enough, but in talking about how children learn "better" than adults - the input that children will receive in almost all social settings is totally different than what adults receive. Just think about it. A child need only say a few words and the adults around him will flood him with tons of input automatically. This could be for a variety of reasons - They may be trying to be helpful to the child, they may have an unconscious desire to impart "knowledge" to the child, or some paternal instinct wants us to communicate more (and in a different way - for example higher pitch and different sounding).

As an adult, you will be automatically expected to know all of that stuff anyway, so you won't experience any of that input. And that's just one aspect of the difference. There are so many small differences that are driven by social factors, studying the differences in the child brain learning languages is like small potatoes in comparison.

I've had this experience as a foreign language learner - as a passerby, hearing adults communicate among themselves, I almost never can pick up what they're talking about (maybe vague impressions here and there, the occasional word or two). But when I'm a passerby going by a family, and they are talking to their children, this conversation is like crystal clear in comparison to the first experience. Unfortunately, adults will never talk that way to "help me out", so basically I've got to get up to the adult level on my own or with tutors, books, tapes, classes, etc.

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United States
Joined 2223 days ago

17 posts - 44 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: Russian

 Message 23 of 49
16 August 2015 at 1:34am | IP Logged 
Child directed speech could help, but it isn't necessary for L1 acquisition. There are
some groups of people who do not use child directed speech or talk directly to their
children and their kids learn language fine.

The input that doesn't help you would still be enough for a child to learn their L1. As
an adult learner you need to be corrected. Kids just need to hear stuff. They're
different processes.
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United Kingdom
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61 posts - 75 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, Spanish
Studies: Dutch

 Message 24 of 49
16 August 2015 at 4:04am | IP Logged 
If you are put into an environment where l1 isn't spoken at all, surely l2 will take over no matter what age
you are. So I believe you will start to think more in the language, speak exclusively in it etc....
So surely that language would become at a native level at so many years after needing to use it?
Wouldn't l1 become useless and forgotten after so many years? I am talking a significant period of time,
not just a couple of years. I had family that moved to a different part of the UK and their accent changed
tothe area they moved to after 10 years or so. Wouldn't that be the same case with language, no matter
what age the person is?

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