The question of whether there is an ideal age to learn a second language is a fascinating one. Let’s take a look at what the latest generation of linguistics and psychologist have discovered!
It would be unfair to hide the answer, so here is right up front: in second language acquisition young children and adolescents have some strong advantages. But adults have some too they’re just different. Age by itself does not have to be strongest determiner of success because there are many external factors that can also influence the task. The mind works differently at different ages, but the variety of language learning scenarios also varies, and not only by age. To this extent, any age is ideal if the other circumstances are right.
The valuation of “best” also depends on the criteria for evaluation, which can be defined as learning fastest, most accurate grammatically, most eloquent, most accurate in pronunciation and more, so, I hope that you joy this rehearsal.
Get your motor running
The parallel elements of memory and motor skills for production of speech sounds are essential to second language acquisition. These are subject to significant differences in capacity in learners of different ages.
Memory is the essence of learning the association between sound (a word) and meaning. In childhood it is far easier to learn word after even a single exposure, while adults need more frequent exposure and practice, likewise inductive learning of grammar requires a large amount of data in the mind that can be compared and analyzed. The young child learns a tremendous number of words, phrases and meaning, by the age of five, children are estimated to have acquired a vocabulary of about 10,000 words, an average rate of about one new word per waking hour, all day, every day.
Control over the muscles of the speech apparatus is essential to speech. New motor skills are harder to acquire after early adolescence, the younger children of immigrant families learn to pronounce as native speakers while their older siblings and generally never lose their foreign accent.
Around the more substantive areas of grammar, vocabulary and usage, research tends to show that older children and adults perform better and learn faster than young children, when studied in classroom situations. But what is certain is that a lot of what adults do consciously children can do unconsciously.
According to Noam Chomsky, they greatest linguist of our age, “the faculty of language can reasonable be regarded as a language organ, in the sense in which scientist speak of the visual system, as organs of the body”.
Consider how different a child´s development of fist language is from second language acquisition at any age: At two to three months, vocalizing consult of “cooing” in which the child makes some basic vowels sounds. At around six months comes “babbling”, where the child produces word child in “turning in “ to the surrounding sounds. At around eight months the child’s utterances gradually narrow down to sound of the language that is heard.
Between the age of two and three a great acceleration takes place, through two-word and three-word phrases into sentences. Most importantly, children are not taught language, rather they only need to be exposed to language, rather they only need to be exposed to language and “language acquisition seems much like the growth of organs generally, it is something that happens to a child, not that the child does”.
The developing brain
One widely cited attempt to explain children´s ability with languages as related to brain development was made by Eric Lenneberg on the 1960´s. He maintained that children were better language learners that adults. He argued that this was due to the completion of brain maturation in adolescence around puberty, after which, he believed, language learning naturally becomes more difficult.
Subsequent researchers, notably Stephen Krashen, showed that, since the maturation Lenneberg cited actually takes place far earlier, this explanation of adolescent language facility fell from favor. But it doesn´t mean that children don´t have some great advantage. Consider two different second language learning situations: the natural social situation versus the classroom. In the natural setting, younger children and adolescents will do better that adult because of their superior memory and motor skills. But in the classroom situation, older children and adults have some advantages over children in their superior cognitive skills, social skills, vastly greater experiences and capacity for abstract thinking. If those skills are put to efficient use in the right circumstances, adults can reach fluency, even in a very short time. In any case, if no social interaction takes place in the language learning process, a critical ingredient is learning.