How to learn a Language like a Child? 3 Things My Polyglot Kid Does Differently
If you’ve read my post on 11 inspirational language learners, you may have seen Bryce DeCora, the proud founder of Finite Languages, a platform where you can write blog posts to practice your target language and get corrected by native speakers for free. He’s raising a polyglot kid and he knows everything about how children learn. In this post, he describes three things that children do differently to help you learn a language like a child. – Over to you, Bryce.
Aren’t children impressive? They absorb so much of the information around them, learning how to walk, talk, use a fork and use a toilet all from nothing. I’m constantly surprised by my 2-year-old, Atlas, and his ability to pick up three languages. For those of you who don’t know me yet, I’m Bryce, and I’m a recovering monolingual who is determined to raise a multilingual kid. Atlas is learning Russian from his babysitter, English from his mother and Italian from me.
Usually, people get a confused look on their face when they hear me speak to Atlas in Italian for the first time and ask, “Where in Italy are you from? I didn’t even hear your accent.” They are even more confused when I say, “I’m from Nebraska. That’s about as American as it gets.” Yes, I’m teaching Atlas one of the languages I’m currently learning and it’s going miraculously well. But to learn more about that you’ll have to check out some of my other posts. I’m here solely to tell you how impressive it is that Atlas is able to learn these languages.
People praise children all the time for their abilities to learn new things. I even started this blog by praising my son and his ability to learn languages. The reality is that children (even multilingual children) actually suck at learning.
Think about it.
What do you accomplish in a week’s time? If you’re reading this, you’re probably learning languages, you probably have a full-time job, you probably prepare your food every day, do the laundry, stay up to date on current events… in a week’s time my son has learned that purple (viola) and pink (rosa) are not the same color, broke his favorite toy and locked himself in the bathroom. This is why I’m impressed that I’m able to teach this little monster (I love my little monster) anything at all about Italian.
Children aren’t better learners than adults. They learn differently
Children don’t learn a language at the amazing rate that we think they do. So why do they appear to learn so fast? Why do we constantly say that kids are so much better at learning languages than adults? Why do we want to learn a language like a child? This is because children do three things really well that us adults find extremely difficult.
Mastering these three things will help you learn a language like a child and your language abilities will skyrocket.
1. Find More Time
Children have nothing but time. And they spend almost all of that time learning a language in one way or another. For Atlas it’s talking to his mom while she gets ready for work every morning (in English), spending 6 hours with the babysitter (in Russian), spending three hours at home with me before we go to the gym (in Italian)… children have nothing but time.
Immerse yourself in your language if you want to learn a language like a child.
I don’t care how magical that iPhone app is that you’re using, you’re not going to learn a language in 30 minutes per day. Learning a language takes hours per day. Not necessarily hours studying; listening to music, watching YouTube videos, using subtitles and trying to think all of this in your target language.
2. Care Less About Mistakes
If I ask my son, “Atlas what is this?” he will give me an answer 90% of the time, even if he has no idea what I’m talking about. This is because he doesn’t care if he makes mistakes. He makes a mistake, we correct him and he learns. Simple. However, as adults, we shy away from words we aren’t comfortable with our target language or we avoid conversation in our target language altogether. Then how do we improve from our mistakes? We don’t.
Learn a language like a child by caring less about making mistakes.
3. Focus on What’s Relevant
If you want to learn a language like a child it’s important to focus on what’s relevant.
It took so much time for me to teach Atlas what “stairs” are in Italian (scale). On the other hand, I told him the word caterpillar (bruco) and it instantly stuck with him. Children only learn the words that are relevant to them. My son loves to eat, loves animals and hates bedtime and brushing his teeth. These are all vocabulary that he is sure he knows just in case I’m talking about something that he actually cares about.
Learn the vocabulary that you care about. If your fancy phone app is trying to teach you the word “retirement” within the first month of learning the language… ignore it (unless you are about to retire). Too many people get caught up on understanding every word that’s thrown their way that they end up getting frustrated and quitting or not learning anything.
Sure, children are slow learners, but they do these three things well enough that it gives the illusion that they are learning at lightning speed. Remember that the next time your friend says, “Children learn languages so well. I wish I would have learned a language when I was younger.” and immediately slap them across the face and send them a link to this post.
You can learn a language like a child if you do the three things I mentioned in this post. If you disagree with me even after reading this entire post, let me know in the comments. If you agree with me show myself and Kamila some love by sharing this post 🙂 Ciao!
Make sure you check out Finite languages if you’re learning German, Italian, or French.