Why Children Aren’t Better Language Learners than Adults

Everybody’s favorite stereotypical excuse to not learning a foreign language is that adults can’t learn languages as well as children. The common misconception is that children’s brains are more elastic and more capable of remembering new languages and that our adult brains are rigid and incapable of adapting to the new language’s structure and remembering vocabulary. However, in the last few years, many researchers have found this statement to be false. So while there may be some truth to that statement, it´s not completely accurate. So let’s take a look at why adults may actually be better language learners than children.

Adults already understand how language works

Adults have the ability to effectively analyze foreign language grammar structures and compare them to their own language. For example, an adult already knows how to properly form sentences and the difference between the functions of the different parts of speech. Adults also have the ability to recognize common structures and patterns and apply them to similar situations. Children, while they can remember vocabulary, are unable to do this. This gives adults a huge advantage over them.

Adults and children use language differently

The communication expectations for children are very different from those of adults. Children are only expected to communicate basic ideas, using simple vocabulary and in uncomplicated situations. Adults, on the other hand, are expected to use language in much more complex situations at work or among peers that reflects adult-level thought and critical thinking. Therefore, the amount and complexity of the language that a child must know in order to reach a fluent level for their age is much lower. Therefore, fluency cannot be compared so easily between adults and children, as the expectations of each are quite distinct.

Adults have access to more resources

Adults possess determination, self-discipline and access to resources, all which are things that children do not have. An adult, if he or she so wishes, can actively enroll in classes, seek out other language learners and native speakers to practice with and force themselves to study and improve. Children haven’t developed these resources yet and rather rely on exposure to foreign languages through family.

Children do however have one main advantage over adults; they generally lack the inhibitions of adults. Adults are used to being able to communicate perfectly without having to try too hard or think about what they are trying to communicate. For most adults, it can be quite embarrassing to speak using improper grammar or simple vocabulary, or to sound silly (all which are normal when learning a language). Children are much less self-conscious than adults in this regard. This fear of embarrassing one’s self is what often holds many adults back from studying a foreign language. Once it is overcome however, there are no limits to your language-learning potential!