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Do Children Really Learn Languages Faster Than Adults?

Updated: Jul 26, 2023


When it comes to learning languages, children are thought to be better than adults. Indeed, there is a commonly held belief that compared to adults, children learn languages faster and more effortlessly. This is one of the main reasons why parents are encouraged to enrol their children in language courses, such as English home tuition, as early as possible.


Several scientific studies have actually supported this notion. However, there are still plenty of unanswered questions. Why are children able to learn languages faster? Do they learn more effortlessly because of their brain chemistry, environment, or a combination of both? These are some of the common questions people have about language learning. If you are also curious about these things, this article is right for you. Read on to find out why children are thought to be better language learners than adults.


Children’s Cognitive Advantages When Learning Languages

Young children generally find it easy to learn languages due to their cognitive advantage. Particularly, babies and toddlers create neural connections at a fast pace. As the brain develops, it tends to become more specialised, thereby strengthening the neural pathways that are utilised regularly. While this is a good thing since it enables the brain to become more efficient, it also makes it more challenging to learn new things.


This is the reason why those children who learn a language very early on tend to acquire the accent of a native speaker. Eventually, the neural shortcuts that one’s brain has created to boost efficiency forces them to fall back on the phonemes or sounds of languages they already know. It is due to this elasticity of the brain and fast neural formation that babies and toddlers have the ability to learn languages at a more rapid rate.


Children’s Environmental Advantages When Learning Languages

Aside from cognitive advantages, children also have environmental advantages when it comes to learning languages. Unlike adults and older children, young children do not have formal instructions in language. They simply learn a language by being involved in multilingual environments. Hence, they only passively absorb the language by way of contact.


Even when young children are formally instructed, it is usually only through songs and games, not exams nor verb conjugations. Actually, adults can learn a language much quicker through immersion. However, the cost of immersion for adults is much higher at the same time. Unlike adults, children virtually do not have responsibilities in life. As such, they have the time and energy to be in environments that test their communication skills for hours.


Furthermore, children tend to be better candidates when it comes to immersive language learning due to the fact that they have fewer inhibitions. Indeed, it is a lot easier to learn a language if you are comfortable enough to sound foolish and make mistakes, something that makes many adults very anxious. This is also because compared to adults, the standard of language competence for children is much lower.


Conclusion

Overall, if you are still wondering whether or not there is a hint of truth to the long-standing belief that children learn languages faster than adults, the answer is definitely a yes. There are both cognitive and environmental factors that make this possible. Ultimately, language learning tends to be more effortless for children due to their brain chemistry and environments. So, if you want your child to be multilingual, you should enrol them in language courses as early as possible.


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