Why Adults Can Learn Languages More Easily Than Children

Speaking a second language is a great way to broaden your communication abilities. But many people assume that learning a second language is something they should have tackled as a child, that it becomes too difficult as they grow older. In actuality, children don't necessarily learn languages more easily than adults. Rather, there are certain parts of the language-learning process that are easier as children, while other parts are easier as adults.

When children are young, their brains are in the process of developing. They are malleable and spongelike, always changing and soaking up information. For this reason, learning a first or second language takes place without conscious thought. For children it's more like second nature. A study conducted by Dr. Paul Thompson at UCLA, for example, found that children use a part of their brains called the "deep motor area" to acquire new languages. This area of the brain is activated when you're walking, tying your shoe, or taking a sip of water; it controls unconscious actions. The fact that this same portion of the brain is employed by children when learning languages lead Thompson to conclude that language acquisition is a natural process, something that is second nature, something that a child doesn't have to actively think about. Adults, on the other hand, must think actively about learning a second language. For them it is not second nature, but an intellectual process. This is because an adult's brain has already formed--the circuitry and synapses have been wired to fit the parameters and pronunciations of their first language. Luckily, as an adult, you've already developed the capacity for intellectual learning.

Since adults are capable of grappling with language on an intellectual level, they are actually better suited for becoming proficient in a language more quickly than children. Often we think it's the other way around. We may, for example, observe a child saying a couple of phrases in two languages and conclude that he or she is bilingual. But David P. Ausubel, a linguist at the University of Illinois, points out that children have small vocabularies and use simple constructions to communicate their needs. Adults, on the other hand, communicate in much more complex ways and command very large vocabularies. This gives people the false assumption that children learn a language more quickly. In actuality, adults simply have more to learn to communicate on the same level that they communicate at in their first languages. Moreover, according to Ausubel, adults and adolescents are able to generalize and think in abstract terms. A child needs to hear a phrase time and time again to distinguish a recurring pattern. This type of discovery takes a lot of time and a lot of exposure. Adults can hear a phrase once and understand that that phrase can be universalized across the entire language. The same goes for grammatical patterns: an adult is more likely to realize that many of their first-language's patterns can be applied to the second language, whereas a child's brain has not developed the maturity to think in such abstractions and is therefore unable to make the same connections.

Aware of the differences in language-acquisition processes and aptitudes, experts have realized that teaching methods ought to differ, too. In order to teach a child a second language it is important to expose them to both languages at school and at home. Full immersion will help a child pick up on patterns more readily. Also, using mnemonic techniques like singing songs or having repetitive drills will help wire the new language and its pronunciations into a child's brain. Older language learners often get hung up on pronunciation but learn to understand the grammatical and syntactical patterns more easily. Therefore, adults should concentrate on getting the grammatical fundamentals down so as not to get discouraged by pronunciation difficulties. Once the grammar is down, the difficult specter of correct pronunciation can be slowly chiseled away at and refined over time.

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AccuConference | The Downside of Upgrading

The Downside of Upgrading

8.3 million. That's how many times the new version of Firefox was downloaded yesterday. We were part of the 8.3 mil. Probably millions downgraded - we did (5 out of 5 in our office). Why?

We use Firefox for the extensions. Without the extensions, we might as well be using Netscape 1.0 or IE. We'll gladly upgrade to 3.0, but only when the extensions catch up, if they ever do. We have to have our tab options! This seems eerily similar....does anyone remember the Vista upgrade headaches? We still have issues. Why can't UPS send us a Vista compatible version of their shipping program?

So who's to blame? The original developer (like Mozilla or Microsoft) by not sending out dev kits in time? Or 3rd party developers who haven't yet caught up with the platform? Or is everyone to blame? …for simply not hopping on a conference call to talk about it.

Before definitively pointing the finger, let's keep in mind "What makes a browser great?" Compatibility (ALL Types: Site, Application, Plug-in, & Platform) and Speed. In that order. Some users might wonder if Mozilla could include a ‘fatter' version of the browser with a certain level of compatibility with old extensions. Maybe simply warn about stability or security issues until extensions are updated.

From the Mozilla website: "When you install Firefox 3 all of your Extensions and Themes will be disabled until Firefox 3 determines that either a) they are compatible with the Firefox 3 release or b) there are newer versions available that are compatible."

This can't be the best policy.

Individual extension developers are usually not paid. Maybe they make some AdWords cash, but they are donating to the community and bring the biggest piece of the value pie. Is there more Mozilla can do to cater to these developers? Could they further open up what is being developed to the public domain and stay competitive? Trust in users could generate more brand loyalty and give 3rd party developers more reaction time. People love the name; dare we say they are as positive of a brand as Google. How is the beta/RC program working out? How soon DO developers get information? Is that soon enough or do unpaid extension developers simply ignore the idea of updating their code until they hear from users in their inbox.

As users, we can love extension developers and show gratitude for their time. Please let them know they are appreciated!

As platform developers, we can take some more time out of the busy rush to "release". Although this might "cost" the company, it would be invaluable. Imagine a "no-name developer" receiving a phone call or an email double checking about compatibility.

As third party developers we can bask in the billions of dollars being made from AdWords; or just continue taking pride in persistence. A job well done!

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