pragueBlog

2005-04-29  

Just came across this WaPo article (via AIB) about senior citizens learning Latin and had a few random thoughts.

Children have no instrinsic advantage over adults in learning second languages. Adults, however, almost universally accept the strange idea that they do. Anybody who has taught English as a second language should find this at least mildly interesting; I have had an amateur interest in the subject for a long time. Here's a wonkish bit of writing from one of the linguists quoted in the article above.

Kids' brains don't develop fully until about the age of 20. Nothing we can do about that; it's just biology. Their intellects are weaker, though developing. They haven't yet acquired the knack for complex reasoning. Their language requirements are comparitively primitive. They require just as much time to assemble a working knowledge - in their terms - of a second language as a focused adult does.

What kids don't have is a lifetime of social conditioning to convince them that they can't learn another language. Ironically, kids are both better at picking up accents and much less sensitive to how they themselves sound. Adults are crap at accents, and prone to the thousand deaths of a coward at the thought of opening their mouths to attempt foreign sounds. I only mention that because the fear of pronounciation is the thing that often prevents people from getting over the beginner hurdle. And thus you have the phenomenon of the lifelong adult hobbyist who faithfully goes to evening English lessons and hasn't yet learned that you don't say "hi" when leaving the room. They seem to like the thought of learning the language, while yet believing firmly that it is impossible. This convenient belief stands in nicely as an excuse for not doing any actual work. It's not their fault, in other words.

Lots of analogy potential there in other areas of life.

Have a nice witch-burning this weekend. I Googled "Carodejnice" and lo and behold there on the list is a two year old post from Doug. So read it if you don't know what it is yet.

My high school writing teacher used to teach a course in writing research papers. In advising students on appropriate titles, he used to say, "if you're writing a paper, for example, on the Salem witch trials, it is best to avoid titles like "Burn, Witch, Burn!"

Just thought of that.

Steve | 14:27 |
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