The answer is that depends.
Do children learn to speak a new language sooner? Usually.
Do we lose our natural language learning speed after early childhood? No, in fact we gain speed.
If we gain learning speed, why can children speak a new language sooner than adults?
Children are more likely to experience ideal learning conditions.
Usually, yes, children learn a new language in an immersive language environment more quickly than adults do but not because they are superior language learners overall: the ability to learn languages actually increases as we grow.
Anyone's most successful language learning is always a result of optimal circumstances which are favorable to them.
In natural immersion-only language environments, children usually fare better than adults do, but neither hits the jackpot.
Why does immersion-only work better for young children?
The simplest answer? Lower expectations!
The pacing and structure in immersion-only language environments benefit young children more than mature learners in several ways:
In any environment, but especially in immersion-only, young children face relatively fewer and lower level expectations for a much longer period of time.
Young children are allowed to learn new things as they become necessary and are given lots of chances to get them right.
Young children don't fear making mistakes because they are used to being corrected, and usually gently, for mistakes--and praised for the smallest of victories.
The luxury of more relaxed learning is ideal for any learner, not only for young children.
Ongoing practice, including making mistakes and mistake correction, is vital in reinforcing cerebral pathways.
The only way to more of the praise that young children crave (and need for their healthy development) is to try, and the cost of any mistakes is minimal or nil to them.
At any point in time, when compared with their adult counterparts, very young children in immersive language environments may actually know less but communicate with confidence more quickly and frequently. Practice reinforces learning. Reinforced learning allows additional learning to take place sooner.
Of course, a typical younger child's ability to use new complex sentence structure cannot keep pace with that of most adults. This is partly because they lack the necessary pathways in the brain. It is also because adults who speak with young children use repetitive vocabulary and simple sentences appropriate for their understanding.
Adults have two game-changing advantages that if utilized can catapult their learning:
1. Adults who elect to learn a new language can see the value in not just learning words and phrases but in understanding how that new language actually works and how it is similar to or different from their own language.
For adult learners, a true understanding of the bigger picture is a solid foundation for new learning to grow deeper roots and expand exponentially.
2. Both children and adults can understand and remember a lot more new information if it is presented to them in memorable ways.
Adults already have more understanding of more things, including how their own language works. They have more experience with effectively integrating new understanding into existing knowledge.
For adults, connecting new knowledge to existing knowledge makes new knowledge more meaningful, useful, and ultimately, more retainable.
What are the takeaways here?
Not only is it never too late to become fluent in English, there are clear advantages in learning later (or with maturity).
Anything learned by a mature mind can be integrated more efficiently at greater speed.
Learning acquired later in life can be more meaningful and thus, more lasting.
Adults can learn new languages better than young children do if taught like the adults that they are.
Thanks for reading. We look forward to seeing you in a Parlay Vacay English course.
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