For a lot of people there is always a little voice in the back of their head that tells them that they won’t be able to ever gain any real fluency in French because they’re doing it as an adult (or at least not as a young child). However, the truth is that learning French as an adult is easier in many ways to learning it as a child.
Before we delve too deep into this it’s a good idea to go over some reasons why it is indeed easier to learn a language as a child. This isn’t being brought up to discourage anybody, but rather to help you understand where adults fall short and how they can fix this. Let’s get started…
Advantages Children Have Over Adults
To start off, children have the advantage of not becoming embarrassed as easily as adults. There are very few things that children are afraid of doing for fear of being judged poorly by others. This is helpful in language learning because as adults we often feel self-conscious about what to say or if we are saying it correctly. Kids simply do not have this feeling, and thus are able to practice more openly and without any restrictions they may place on themselves.
Being a child language learner also has its great advantages in so much that people don’t expect as much from them. When you’re a child learning a foreign language (or your native one) people simply aren’t you going to expect that much from you. Nobody is going to ask you what you think of the political climate of the country, or which laws you agree with and which ones you don’t.
You simply are able to live at whatever level you’re at without ever being put in the situation where you have to speak above your level. When you are an adult you have to constantly handle these types of situations because people expect that at your age you would have a more developed opinion than a child.
Children are also at an advantage because they don’t already have certain knowledge and vocabulary that they have to replace in their new language. Let me explain… One of the hardest parts of learning a language is having to learn new vocabulary and how it differs from the vocabulary that you already know. We tend to learn vocabulary in a new language and assume that it directly translates to the vocabulary in our native language. Those of us with language learning experience know that this isn’t always the case.
In many cases there are words that are similar to what we already know in our native language, but aren’t exactly the same. Whether we like it or not you can be extremely difficult to understand the full difference between the new vocabulary we learn and what we already know. Children however are missing large amounts of vocabulary that adults already know. This works to their advantage because when they learn new vocabulary they don’t have as much previous vocabulary to compare it to.
Finally, perhaps one of the biggest advantages that children have over adults (and something that most people seem to forget) is that children are almost always placed in an immersive environment. Nobody ever talks about how great children learn foreign languages in classrooms because honestly they don’t fair that well (at least no better than adults).
People often forget that their learning language is almost always done while they’re growing up in the country where that language is spoken, whereas adults almost always learn a foreign language in a country where their target language is NOT spoken. When you think of it like this it really is no wonder why children do so much better. They are simply exposed to the language a lot more.
So, to recap, children aren’t afraid of making mistakes, they don’t already have certain knowledge and vocabulary that they have to replace (meaning that they can be learned for the first time without having something to compare it to), they aren’t expected to have the same knowledge as adults, and they’re almost always in an immersive environment where they can get literally as much exposure to the language as they need. This is by no means a definitive list and I’m sure that one could come up with other advantages children hold, but these three I really what comes to mind for us.
Now, the great thing about all of these points is that they can all be corrected by the average adult learner. If you can train yourself to not be so embarrassed about making mistakes or to keep an open mind when learning new vocabulary (and not compare every new word you learn to a word you are you know) you can definitely overcome your current disadvantages. Now that we know why children hold an advantage over adults in language learning and what we can do to correct those advantages, we can now move on to some of the advantage that adults hold over children.
Advantages Adults Have Over Children
The first, and perhaps most obvious, advantage that adults hold over children is that they’re simply more disciplined. It can be very difficult trying teach a child something they don’t really have any interest in learning. Adults, on the other hand, can really dig into a language and do what it takes to learn what they need to. Although learning a language naturally and through context is by far the best method one can use adults can actively seek out situations where they can get language practice.
Children, on the other hand, have to wait to be placed in various situations and aren’t as able to seek them out on their own. If you’re an adult it is much easier for you to meet speakers of your target language or to find materials written in that language. Basically to some this whole point up as an adult if you really want to learn a language you’ll find a way to do it.
Another great advantage adult language learners hold over children is that they have a better understanding of the world. What I mean by this is that there are certain concepts that, no matter how hard you try to explain, children just simply won’t understand. It’s not because they are stupid, but rather that they aren’t mature enough. Adults have a more complete understanding of the world and how it works and although they may be introduced to new vocabulary or even just a new culture, they are much better suited to comprehend it.
An example of this could be how elections take place or the process involved in getting a job. Both of these processes may differ in foreign countries from your own, but as adults you should still be able to learn to understand them. Children need time to mature and a learn more about how the world works, before they can grasp some of the concepts that adults can understand right away.
Adult language learners also have the ability to ask questions and figure out what they don’t already know. If there is the word or phrase that you are unsure of as an adult you can much more easily figure them out. Children, on the other hand, are not as capable at using the resources around them (whether it be a computer, a book, or a friend) to find information that they don’t already possess. It is exactly for this reason that I truly believe that adults can progress much quicker in the beginning of their language studies than children because they can take the initiative to be proactive in their learning and not wait for things to come to them.
This next one can be considered an addition to the previous section, but of all the language resources out there the vast majority of them are specifically made for adults. Not only as an adult are you able to better use the resources around you, but most of them are specifically designed for you. Think of all the language-learning products on the market. Nine out of ten of them are made just for adults.
Alright, let’s go over the advantages that we discussed regarding the advantages adults have over children. First, adults are more disciplined and can take charge of their learning and focus on doing what it takes. Children can often be unfocused or have short attention spans, making teaching them anything a bit of a hassle. Secondly, adults have a better understanding of the world. It may not seem like it, but this is extremely important when learning a language. Language elements such as vocabulary or expressions sometimes require some real-life experience to really comprehend them. One example we gave was how elections take place.
How are you supposed to learn about election-related vocabulary (i.e. ballot, prime minister, polling station, etc.) if you don’t even really know what an election is or what is involved in it? Adults have a clear advantage here. Thirdly, adults can better use resources around them to learn or find information that they don’t know. Things such as books, computers, or even people around you can be incredibly useful sources to help you in your language studies. Finally, virtually all of the language-learning resources out there are specifically designed for adults. You can easily gain access to seemingly unlimited resources that were all created with you in mind. All of these things (and more) are much more accessible to the average adult French learner.
Being an adult language learner has some serious benefits, so if you take one thing away from this reading it should be that the one thing holding you back from achieving fluency isn’t your age. It’s not only possible no matter your age, but in many ways an asset.
What do you think? Do adults have an advantage over children when it comes to learning French (or any language? Or do children have it much better? Comment below in tell us what you think.