Wednesday, February 23

The Linguistic Genius of Babies (Patricia Kuhl)


"Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another -- by listening to the humans around them and "taking statistics" on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world." - Source

Of course it easier to learn a language when you are younger, especially when you are a baby. What do you do besides eating, playing, exploring, sleeping, crying and ______?

However, I don't agree with the diagram above, because I believe it is much more to it than simply getting stuck in the age thingy about learning a language. No doubt human being's ability to acquire a new language declines with age to some extent, but there are many more factors to learning a language than just the decline of the brain, which could vary dramatically from person to person, depending upon how they use it during their lifetime.

What about interest and passion to learn a language? For example, if a 30 year old dude has the interest and passion to learn a language, I am pretty sure he or she will learn a language much faster than a 3 year old kid, especially if given the same amount of time to achieve it.

Perhaps the brain power has declined, but by using learning and thinking skills acquired fused with passion and interest... No contest!

Well, that is my opinion, and I don't have a Magnetoencephalography (MEG) to prove it. Neither am I a linguist (and I am crappy at learning languages, too!), but I have met passionate people my age, or older that have a gift for learning languages really quickly. So, age might be one factor, but the interest and passion to learn fused with effective learning methods, I am pretty sure we can continue to learn new languages pretty well until we expire :)

What do you think?


Li-ling said...

I do agree with you that interest and passion must play some role in language learning. I think however, that if you were to place a 3 year old and a 30 year old in a foreign language, immersive culture (say to Japan where everyone only speaks Japanese)in 3 years, the 3 year old would be much more fluent in the language than the 30 year old, hence the deterioration in language ability. However, what I did wonder, watching Patricia Kuhl's videos was how these statistics and MEGs would look for bi-lingual/multi-lingual babies?

Unknown said...

Dear Li-Ling,

thanks for the great input and question.

Know from experience that learning a new learning language as a kid is easier... Had to learn Norwegian from I was 5 years old, and over a 3 years period probably the kid would do better. However, over a shorter period an adult would do better due to experience, passion, skills, etc. In short, it really depends on the contexts, and need to master the language :)

Regarding the MEG and multi-lingual baby question, I suppose Patricia could answer that question a million times better than me :)


Unknown said...

Hi Zaid: You point is correct otherwise their would be no PhD's or Master degrees in foreign languages. I think if you look at Howard Gardner's multi-intelligence or Vygotsky's Theory of Social Development and not pay so close attention to Chomsky hard wired language will help with your metacognitive aspects of language acquisition.

Unknown said...

Dear Ajaan Rob,

It feels great to be correct :)

Though, I am not sure if I am correct, but I believe I have identified a few issues that should not be overlooked when it comes to learning a language.

But, thanks for your feedback and yes, a bit of motivation and metacognition can help overcome the other shortcomings due to deterioration in language ability :)


David Pritts said...

I am also not convinced that kids learn languages faster. It is probably true that it is easier for them to acquire an accent and to make new sounds. But, in terms of learning grammar, building a vocabulary, developing speaking and listening skills, my impression is that adults do this just as well, or better.

Anyone who has tried to teach a foreign language to a young child will know this is the case, 90% of the time. Students who are 3-5 years old need to be constantly reminded, and require lots of practice, to even master a few basic vocabulary words. They forget things that were taught to them just 1-5 minutes prior.

Of course, the learning methods are very different. Perhaps kids learn more "naturally", whatever that means. Adults, on the other hand, are capable of sitting down, focusing, and reviewing a list of vocabulary or some grammar rules... and then remembering.

I'm fairly convinced that if we taught a group of children and a group of adults in an identical fashion, the adults would do better.

Unknown said...

Dear David Pritts,

Thanks for some really good points and reflections.

I am also "fairly convinced that if we taught a group of children and a group of adults in an identical fashion, the adults would do better."

But then again, unless we have researched it or experimented with the idea in a lab, it will always be considered a matter of opinion.

Whatever the truth is (if any regarding this issue), your visit here to share your opinion and views has enriched my view, and that is valuable in itself :)

Thanks and have a great learning day!