Net Teacher: “A child’s brain – under 6 years old – is just different than an adult’s. It soaks up languages – and a whole lot more – in a different way, and faster, than an adult’s.”
“A child under 6 can learn 10 or 15 language as NATIVE languages, if some…one who is a native speaker interacts with the child in those languages. (Just listening is not enough; there has to be interaction.) Whereas an adult will never learn even a single language as a NATIVE language. Any language that an adult learns, no matter how long or how well they learn it, will ALWAYS be a second language. A native speaker will always be able to hear that it is a second language.”
“Children under 6 have this capability, adults and even older children do not. The developing brain is just a different thing. It’s not a myth, it’s a fact: children under six learn languages not only faster, but better than adults.”
Antonio Graceffo: This is preposterous! All students at Germerheim reach native speaker fluency in their first foreign language and academic fluency at the college level in their second, myself included. And we all learned it as adults. DLI, Monterey Institute, Middlbeurry, and Germersheim are all programs designed to get adults up to the level of academic fluency in six months to two years of study.
The one point I will concede is that children are able to lose their native accent in a foreign language. BUT this only applies to children in an immersion situation. It will generally not happen in a language school. If we focus on the reality and not the theory, we have millions of Asian kids attending language schools, learning English a few hours per week. And we have adult foreigners who have the option of attending intensive course or not, or doing tons of study or not. If the adults chose to study, they would get better results than the kids.
Just in Chinese I know that my vocabulary is four thousand words. How many words does a Chinese child under six know? How many Chinese words does a non-Chinese child under six know?
Proof that I gave in my last article was that I copied the final lesson the children were expected to do at the end of forty hours of classes. There was less than ten percent as much language as there was in the adult book. Advanced grammatical applications such as the comparative or tenses can be taught to adults in minutes, where as children need days or weeks.
This actually happened in my Vietnamese class. One of my classmates asked my teacher, “How do you make past tense?” And she told us. Then someone else asked, “As long as we are on the subject, how do you do future tense?” She showed us. We did two or three examples and that was it. It is understood that when we go home at night we do several hours of homework to help us remember, but the lesson took minutes. You can’t teach tenses to children in minutes.
The Commentator: “Some of this particular notion is based on the fact that babies and small children are somewhat passive in the sense that sounds surround them and they cannot prevent them…this means talking and language, etc. plus noise and other stimuli… via the senses, etc. A conscious, aware, alert and motivated learner, despite some or any handicaps can learn things…. Well, anyway, you are right in attacking this basic assumption since children are still learning motor skills and other things….that some and many adults have sort of ‘perfected.”
Marine LT: “I think even way back in the 1980s Brown showed that except in the area of pronunciation, adults were far superior second language learners than children. Antonio, you are just plain right.”
Marine LT holds a masters degree in TESOL. He learned Chinese as an adult and has a tested reading ability of three thousand characters. His pronunciation and tones are dead-on in Chinese. He teaches ESL at a university in Taiwan and has read extensively in the field of second language acquisition. He also refuses to teach children because they are too undisciplined.
Professor: “Take Net Teacher to pieces. He has obviously never stepped outside of a celta inspired class that damages speakers’ pronunciation etc. People all over the world acquire native’s speaker fluency through exposure. Most tribes people in Africa just spend one year following around the rest of tribe when they intermarry and end up with native speaker fluency. Suggest he is put on the phone with some of the grads from ALG. I have Thai professors listen to David and the only thing they can say to tell him apart if in the way he speaks not thinks.”
Language teaching is full of entrenched individuals with the heads in the sand. If I get time I will dredge out a paper of examples Krashen did and post a link to it
Professor mentions David Long, the guru of the ALG method. David speaks Thai at the native speaker level. He learned it as an adult, by studying intensively for two years. He is admittedly a bad language learner and has never learned any other foreign language. But on the phone, a native speaker would not be able to tell that he was a foreigner. David Long also believes that adults learn faster than children.
MA Teacher: “I have an additional perspective on it which is based on the master thesis Im currently researching. It’s neither against of for either of your stances on the issue. It’s a third perspective. I think the matter is not exactly whether or not children learn faster than adults. Adults certainly can learn much faster than anyone has ever given them credit for and children’s supposed innate ability is overrated. To become somewhat of a myth. But the real cause of this myth is because of the nature of education and classes. Because you can’t teach a language, languages are learned – not taught. The orthodoxy of lessons doesn’t allow for the possibility that the lessons themselves are what is hindering adults. And what’s needed is learners making their own choices, since language is a personal journey that everyone must make individually, and no teacher student relationship can improve this unless the teacher allows the student to read and observe unimpeded without interference. So-called immersion classes do not mimic real life. The problem is the ELT industry with imposed structure that doesn’t work.”
Antonio Graceffo: I strongly agree with everything you have said. I don’t know if you are familiar with the years of work I did on ALG (automatic language growth), but I have published widely on the subject. I am not a 100% ALG adherent but you, ALG and I all agree that one of the reasons that the myth survives is that teaching methodologies are extremely flawed.
If we take a traditional approach, then at some point the ESL learner should at some point transition into reading novels and plays and doing book reports or studying subjects taught in English. But this is not part of any ESL program I have heard of.
I studied applied linguistics and worked as a translator in Germany for four years and in our program we were expected to be educated at the same level in German and Spanish that we were in English, which means I have read probably a hundred and fifty novels and countless textbooks or research works in German. Most ESL learners never get to that point. And I agree with you that it is because of the methodology.
And yes, mother tongue is learned not taught. Children learn their native tongue or the language of their host country because the entire world is dedicated to the teaching of children. Adults constantly teach words and songs and phrases to children, intentionally, let alone the passive learning which children do naturally.
Since most Vietnamese adults are unwilling to follow me around all day teaching m words, the way they do with Vietnamese children, I need to go to school to learn Vietnamese. And as you said, the school model is flawed.
I invite you to comment.