Language is an important part of what makes us human. It helps us to convey our thoughts and emotions to others and it is key to building relationships. Needless to say, it is important for us to acquire language as infants and, apparently, it is not even that difficult.
According to Rowland & Noble (2010), children as young as 12 months benefit from an innate sensitivity to the grammar that we need to understand causative sentences. Researchers are yet to discover exactly how the mechanism works that enables children to distinguish syllables and words from the sounds they hear and to acquire grammar to understand and produce language themselves.
In general, children learn and develop very quickly thanks to increased brain plasticity. This explains why they are able to pick up languages more easily than teenagers and adults. Children are literally built to take in language information and this happens unconsciously; it is in their brain chemistry. The brain gathers information much more easily in an unconscious state of mind than in a conscious one.
The combination of this mysterious language mechanism and the ability to learn unconsciously explains why children (vs. adults) can learn additional languages relatively easily when they are exposed to them. Once they have learnt the grammatical structures in one language, they can integrate them in any other languages that they unconsciously learn.
Even though it becomes more difficult to learn languages later on in life, it is of course still possible.
Personally, as a native Belgian Dutch speaker, I have always found it important to not only speak English, but also French. As a child, I didn’t like any of the television programmes I could watch on Flemish television channels, so my mum tried turning on the BBC. Not only did it entertain me, but I was learning English in the meantime. Learning French was a little harder. In Belgium, learning French starts at school when you are 11 years old and continues until you are 18. I only had the feeling that I could really speak French when I did an exchange with someone from Wallonia and spent a few days with her and her family. Being surrounded with French and having no choice but to speak French just worked for me and I liked it.
Over 95% of the team at GlobaLexicon comes from a linguistic background, each bringing with them their own unique language-learning experiences…
Sabrina is a German Linguist who speaks a number of languages including Japanese:
“When I was 13, I started learning Japanese after school, attending evening classes at an adult education centre, as I had a big interest in Asian culture, Anime and Video Games at this time. I think that learning a language has always been something that comes quite naturally to me, though I would say it helps when you’re really interested in a language, because that way it becomes less of a pure learning “process” and is rather something you look forward to knowing more about.”
Laura is a Project Coordinator and a native speaker of Dutch. As well as speaking a number of languages, including fluent English, she also speaks Mandarin Chinese:
“I started learning Mandarin Chinese when I was 17 and decided to study it at University. My interest in the language started when I was quite young – we went to a Chinese restaurant and we brought the menu home. I started “drawing” the Chinese characters. Then I started collecting pictures of Chinese characters; I wanted Chinese wallpaper in my room etc. When I was a bit older I became more interested in the culture and started reading about it and watching movies/documentaries about it. For me, learning a language is a challenge – I really had to invest a lot of time in it but if you enjoy doing something you don’t mind!”
Arturo is an Italian Linguist with a passion for learning new languages. He is currently taking an evening course in Polish, proving it is never too late to start learning:
“I was looking for a new language to learn for a while, something different. Polish has a massive range of vowel and consonant sounds, more than all other languages I know (it’s got a sound similar to the Spanish “ñ” and both the French nasal “en” and “on”), as well as cases like in German or Russian – that’s truly interesting, and opens up the possibility of learning other languages from the same family. My advice to language-learners is don't be afraid of launching yourself into interactions with native speakers, even outside class. The worst that can happen is that they correct your grammar, which is actually pretty useful.”
If you’re thinking of learning a new language, why not take a look at our Top 4 tips for language learners?