The benefits of learning languages from a young age
Children acquire their first language with ease outside of a teaching environment and acquire exceptional language skills, while adults are stereotypically unable to do this and will always need to learn a second language within a teaching environment to reach similar levels to the child’s native language in areas such as grammar and vocabulary. Here at elearnus we will explore why learning languages from a young age is more important than ever.
At elearnus we have explored the benefits of learning languages from a young age rather than waiting until we are older. Teachers and tutors can use our tools to deliver language learning.
Learning languages from a young age is important because as we age, our memory levels also decrease. There are two types of memory, short- and long-term memory. There are three essential functions of memory in learning a second language, the first is language processing, specifically language comprehension, the second is language production, and finally vocabulary acquisition. There cognitive limitations of memory loss in older learners of a language, coincide with Lennenberg’s view that language learning is “better at a younger age” (Lenneberg, 1967) because there is a decrease in memory levels it creates limitations for adult learners in areas of grammar and lexicon. Memory can be said to be one of the best indicators of an individual’s performance in second language learning, if memory decreases with age then this should mean that so does an individual’s achievement in second language learning.
Another reason for learning languages from a young age is more important than ever because many methods of teaching languages put adults at a disadvantage, for example a lot of teaching methods require good auditory for learning. Birdstrong, along with several other authors describe how “older students lose their ability to imitate sounds and to memorize, […] consequently they are forced to start a production process based on trial/error and the oral response is decidedly slower” (Birdsong, 2006). The sensors are of paramount importance in learning languages and adults are more likely to lose the ability to use their senses effectively compared to children, which in turn can impede language learning, especially in the elderly.
Moreover, learning languages from a young age is more important than ever because of fossilisation which means that some aspects of language are learned incorrectly, this includes grammatical features and incorrect vocabulary and they cannot be unlearned which adult learners are particularly susceptible to after years of speaking their first language. The Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics defines fossilisation as ‘…a process (in second and foreign language learning) which sometimes occurs in which incorrect linguistic features become a permanent part of the way a person speaks or writes a language. Aspects of pronunciation, vocabulary usage and grammar may become fixed or fossilised in second or foreign language learning. Fossilised features of pronunciation contribute to a person’s foreign accent’ (Richards et al, 1992). Although fossilisation is not completely understood, the current view is that learning a second language at a younger age, following the critical hypothesis theory, helps to reduce fossilisation.
Furthermore, there is language anxiety in adult students compared to children because adult learners face more pressure to obtain a second language at the same pace as children. Often this pressure does not have the positive effects that adult learners may expect which can lead to stress.
Finally, another reason for learning languages from a young age is so important rather than waiting until you’re an adult is self-concept. Adult student’s self-concept is extremely important in language learning and has a direct impact on their motivation in class. (Mercer, 2011). Adult students resume their learning lacking in motivation and their amount of self-confidence can become an obstacle to second language acquisition. Adult second language learners may think that they can’t be successful in learning a second language which can then cause them to be influenced and compare themselves to young learners.
Overall, here at elearnus we explore why learning languages from a young age is so important rather than waiting to learn languages as an adult. All the advantages demonstrate that if parents want their children to be bilingual, they should start learning as soon as possible. Although adults have the advantage of being able to learn languages more quickly in the early stages of learning languages than children do, it is generally a lot harder for adults to learn a second language compared to learning languages from a young age.
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Deng, F. and Zou, Q. (2016). A Study on Whether the Adults’ Second Language Acquisition Is Easy or Not—From the Perspective of Children’s Native Language Acquisition. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 6(4), p.776.
Jedynak, M. (2009). Critical period hypothesis revisited. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
Han, Z. (2004). Fossilization in adult second language acquisition. 1st ed. Multilingual Matters LTD, p.19.
Schleppegrell,, M. (1987). The Older Language Learner.
Swain, M 1995: Three functions of output in second language learning. In Cook, G. and Seidlhofer, B. (eds) Principle and practice in applied linguistics: studies in honour of H. G. Widdowson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 125-44