Why adults are better learners than kids (So NO, you’re not too old) Kids are great! I was an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher for several years in several countries, teaching mostly children, and I could see how quick they were at learning a second language. Of course, who of us doesn’t want to go back to our childhood, when things were simpler and the world was full of endless possibilities (which too many people claim it somehow isn’t any more…)? Along these lines, one of my favourite songs in the world is a Brazilian one about never losing touch with your childhood. So it’s no wonder we want them to pounce on any advantages they have now to do something better, which they may lose out on later. This is why when some misleading study is produced (the criteria for which I’d say are up for question) saying that children learn better than adults (especially with languages), if it encourages you to have your child learn a language now then by all means, put your faith in the study! Raising bilingual children is an incredibly wise investment, and they’ll surely thank you for it one day. But to most people, such concepts are used as nothing more than an excuse for why they can’t do anything. If I had a penny for every time I heard someone say they are “too old” to learn a language, I’d simply buy the entire target countries I move to while I start their language from scratch as an adult. It’s a bogus self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think you are too old, you won’t try at all because it’s “hopeless” and you won’t learn. You didn’t learn “therefore” you are too old(!) Ad nauseam. Biased and ultimately useless studies
The problem is that statements like “children are better learners” don’t actually benefit anyone beyond encouraging a parent to work harder sooner to have his/her child learn now. If you tell a six year old such a thing, it’s hardly going to motivate him much. He’ll learn anyway if other factors are beneficial. Most times I have seen references to these studies they do them in closed or overly academic environments, which prove nothing more than “children learn better in this environment under these exact criteria”. Exposing both adults and children to the same environment is wasteful because adults and children learn and think differently. Even when an efficient immersion environment is applied, it’s still not a good gauge because children and adults immerse too differently, and even as individuals will have too vastly different outcomes. Adults have advantages these studies ignore, which I want to discuss in this post. “Childish” learning strategies
I am definitely against all of this “learn like a baby” crap I see floating around in the online language learning community. It’s nothing short of ludicrous! You aren’t a baby so stop acting like one. It has inspired this wasteful passive listening pandemic – “it works for babies, so it must be good for me!” ignoring pretty damn obvious things like babies don’t speak because they can’t yet not because it interferes with their “inactive absorption” of the language. People are welcome to be sceptical about what I achieve in these missions but if you compare what I and other efficient language hackers do in just a few months, to children, the adults will win every time. Studies end up covering inefficient learning techniques, which are neither well suited to adults or children. When you look at the long term, then you see children come out on top in terms of not having a strong accent and less likeliness of “fossilised” mistakes, but adults can work to reduce and eliminate their accent and mistakes. Most simply don’t. For example, I found that taking singing lessons helped me to reduce my accent in Portuguese enough to convince several Brazilians that I was from Rio back while I was living there. Nearly every adult simply just accepts a foreign accent as a permanent stamp after childhood, or doesn’t use non-academic means to reduce theirs. Because of this...
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