We’ve all heard people claiming that if you want to learn a second language, it is best to do it as a child, rather than as an adult. This is not easy to prove, but according to an article written by Monika Schmid for The Conversation, some new research based on brainscans and innovative statistical methods does actually point out to the fact that the older we get the harder it is for us to learn a second language.
There is a variety of reasons why it is easier for children to learn things faster: they can spend more time on it (unlike adults who have other responsibilities too), they are more motivated to fit in, and since they are little, their pronunciation and grammar in the native language is easier to overcome.
It is important to realize that these factors do not in fact point out to a specific right period to learn a second language, but they do make children perform better than adults.
And these are not the only noteworthy differences – when it comes to using correct and consistent grammar (and especially grammatical rules), adults seem to be having a harder time than children, even if they are perfectly capable learners.
One of the examples that Schmid gives is that many of them don’t seem to understand that the phrase “I have lived in Colchester for two years” implies that I still live there, while “I lived in Colchester for two years” implies that I do not. But why does this happen?
Schmid notices that there are some “pockets” of grammar that children can master more easily than adults, and they are strongly related to the idea of a window of time which usually lasts until puberty, when the human brain is more prone to learning a new language, including its grammar.
But it is difficult, she says, to detect the exact moment indicative of when you are too old to learn a new language easily, because the change is gradual. So the advice is not to postpone it any longer!