You have likely heard, or perhaps even witnessed, that children learn languages easier and faster than most adults. I used to spend 3 hours a week with 12-year-olds working out of a Spanish textbook while at the same time working with 3 and 4-year-olds for only 2 hours a week playing Spanish games and reading stories. By the end of the semester, the 3 and 4 years could listen and respond to a 9 question interview including correct conjugations of the verb gustar and do it all with pretty impressive pronunciation. As for my 12-year-olds – let’s just say I had some unhappy parents on my hands after report cards came out.
I have taught Spanish to all ages, ranging from 3 to 60. I can definitely attest to the fact that kids simply learn languages more efficiently than most adults. Let me tell you why.
1. Young tongues
Unfortunately, this is the one advantage kids have on adults that simply cannot be imitated. When you are born, you have the ability to make all kinds of sounds with your throat and tongue. When you hear a foreign language and wonder how humans could make sounds like that, just remember that at one time, you could too. As we grow older, we adapt to the sounds we hear around us and we allow our throat and tongue to adapt to “normal” sounds. Eventually, your tongue “forgets” the other “abnormal” sounds. So next time you hear a 3 year old rolling their R´s like a Spanish telenovela star while you spit all over your professor trying to properly say the word “perro” just know that the kid did not have to work for that sound the way you will have to.
2. Kids do not question everything
Yes, questions are an important part of learning, but not all questions are actually productive. Many people struggle with Spanish grammar because it differs from English. For example, saying “Tengo 20 años” (Literally, I have 20 years) instead of “Soy 20” (Literally, “I am 20” though grammatically incorrect in Spanish) seems odd to most adults learning the language. They ask useless questions like “Why do they say ‘I have years’?” This is especially troublesome when it comes to verbs like gustar. “Why do they say ‘it pleases me’ instead of ‘I like it’?”
Because they do.
Children have a much looser definition of what is “normal” or “wrong” when it comes to languages. They are much more willing to accept the differences in grammar than adults are. Adults could learn a lot from kids in this respect. There is no “right” way to say something in all languages. In English, we say “I like” and in Spanish, they say “Me gusta”. That is just how it is, so put your energy into learning how to conjugate it correctly rather than questioning why it is said that way.
This is the main reason I love teaching little kids and avoid teaching adults. Most little kids love to learn. I show up to the lessons excited, carrying homemade educational games, stickers, and a prize box and those kids are jumping up and down, ready to learn. Adults, on the other hand, have the option to cancel the lesson (usually last minute), cut the lesson short, or just daydream the whole time. Stickers and prize boxes do not motivate adults, all they want is to be fluent overnight. Many adults study out of necessity, such as a credit requirement or something they need for work. If you do not love the language and truly want to learn it, you are going to struggle a lot more.
Be like kids – find the joy in small triumphs such as remembering a new word from your last lesson or finally being able to pronounce that one word you always screw up. Stop asking unproductive questions and putting your language on a linguistic pedestal. Just accept Spanish for what it is. I promise, seeing the learning process like a kid will make things a lot easier on you.
What suggestion do you have to learn Spanish as a kid?
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