Learn Language Like a Child? August 10, 2007Posted by Edwin in Learning Tips.
My daughter has turned 2-years old last month. This is the period when suddenly you hear streams of words coming out from her month rather unexpectedly.
A lot have been said about learning language like a child, especially from the natural language learning advocates. After all, who is a better learner than a child, who would eventually become a native speaker. I am not against the natural language learning approach, but I would not go so far and adopt the entire children approach and “learn language like a child”. I can think of at least 3 areas that are very different:
Children take many years to become fluent native speakers. We as adult probably won’t want to spend as much time. Adults learn things very differently than children. We relate what we know with what is new to us. Children usually learn the concepts and the language at the same time. So there is no reason why we cannot learn faster than them.
We as adult tend to work much harder and stay more focus to acquire a language. We perform drills and memorize vocabulary. Children usually take the ‘natural’ pace to absorb the new materials, which of course is expected to take a longer time.
I have heard people recommending learners to read children’s books. While I believe this is good to get used to the sentence structure, but at the same time you would pick up a lot of vocabulary that are not very useful in your daily-life. You would learn all the names of the animals and insects, from a bee to a donkey, as well as items such as a balloon, kite, and teddy bear.
I recall some years ago, my wife and a few friends hired a Mandarin teacher to teach them Mandarin. This was way before I started. She found a teacher from Beijing working in a kindergarten. One day, I took a look at her materials, only to find out that the teacher was reusing the same materials from her work. My wife was learning sentences like “Papa goes to work, Mama goes to cook” (爸爸工作,妈妈煮饭)!
We are much smarter than children, and we should leverage this advantage and take shortcuts. This is where linguistic tools such as grammar come into place. I am not against extensive grammatical explanations, only that we should not spend too much time of explaining ‘why’ things are. Grammar should help us to identify patterns and nothing more.
Other useful tools include phonetics and memorizing techniques such as mnemonics.
I believe we still have a lot to learn from children as far as language learning is concerned. In particular, children are usually better listeners, they are eager to imitate, and they have the correct attitude of being fearless and humble.