It is a truth universally acknowledged, that children are naturally good at learning languages. Or is it? Maybe not. Polyglot Gabriel Wyner thinks this is just a myth. According to Wyner, “it is not fair to compare yourself to a child who has had thousands of hours of exposure to their mother tongue”. (Remember this when you have just started a 15-hour Inicial 1 course and don’t be too harsh on yourself!)
During the last term I had the amazing opportunity of observing our Montessori Spanish lessons for children aged between 4 and 7 years old. Leaving scientific theories aside, I noticed some visible differences in the way children and adults learn. Could these be the secret for learning a new language?
Children don’t try to rationalise what they hear. Although grown-ups have the advantage of having learnt how to learn, kids go with the flow and absorb new material naturally and instinctively, without labelling it, nor overthinking, nor needing to feel in control of the situation.
Moreover, children don’t try to understand absolutely every single word, therefore they don’t struggle in a context of full immersion. If there’s something they don’t understand, they intuitively make it out based on the context.
Whereas on many occasions adults hold themselves back for fear of saying a blunder, kids don’t have a sense of ridicule. Children are fearless. They are not afraid of making mistakes. They don’t feel any pressure about having to give the perfect answer. They don’t compare themselves to their fellow classmates and therefore they don’t feel judged by them. As a result, children dare to “take risks” experimenting with the language.
Learning a language naturally involves making mistakes. It’s a logical and healthy part of the way. A trial and error process.
Maybe the secret for learning a new language is to be a bit more playful and uninhibited. To copy children’s “laid-back style”. To laugh at our mistakes. And if that is not the secret, you will at least have much more fun in your lessons!