Debunking the myth

Debunking the myth

There’s a myth when it comes to languages: this myth has it that children are exceptionally good at learning foreign languages and that we lose that gift when we grow up.

Part of this belief could be actually true, as children aged 6 to 12 months seem, in this tiny window, to hear sounds in a way that we later lose. Furthermore, children are fearless and they don’t seem to be worried about making mistakes or expressing their thoughts in a way that we would judge as “imprecise” and “shaky”. What is important for them is to get the message across to their playmates or parents.

Undoubtedly, the most important advantage that children have when it comes to learning a new language is time. You might have studied really hard as well but, if we compare your exposure to an X foreign language to the exposure that a child might have in the same period of time, the latter will be significantly higher and their learning rate consequently better. To make a fair comparison we should imagine taking an Italian kid and transplant him to Germany where he’s given the same amount of exposure to the German language as an adult: that’s where we as adults win, because learning strategies are already part of our cultural experience!

To easily learn a new language during adulthood we have to start thinking in a whole new way avoiding the common stressful and masochistic learning methods we might have been taught at school. Memories are fascinating things: they aren’t stored in any particular location of your brain but they are actually stored in the connections between regions of your brain and this is why every element of a language must be connected to sounds, images, tastes and emotions in order to be easily absorbed. How is that possible? The answer is: only by connecting every component to your sensory experiences, emotional contents and, most of all, your story. This is the only way to make them stick with you.

The overall concept is: if you want to learn a language efficiently, then you have to give that language life. Experts say that every language can’t be some kind of abstract grammatical code but it has to be something that can help you tell your story. This is why have to remodel the way we learn a foreign language to avoid struggling terribly to retain a few words or rules; if you are able to connect the language you are learning to your personal experience and to your senses, you will find that the words begin to stick in your mind and the grammar too.

You will realize that you don’t need some kind of language gene or a divine gift to accomplish this, but this is something that everyone has both the ability and the tools to carry on.

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