How do we learn language?
There are two good points made in the above posts that bear repeating and clarifying.
First, our brains are hardwired so that young children are more receptive to language learning than we are as we get older. Studies have shown that the areas of our brain involved in assimilating languages are more active in very young children than older children and adults. The best time to learn multiple languages is when you are learning your first language.
That being said immersion and motivation are the keys to learning language. Children learn words because they need them. The same will be true for adults learning a second or third language. We will assimilate the words we need to communicate more quickly than words that are more abstract, just as we learned our first language and our vocabulary grew over time. The more immersed you are in a language, the more comples vocabulary you will need to learn. Additionally immersion works because we need the language. If you are highly motivated enough, you can certainly learn a language through study and practice. But motivation and consistent practice are the keys. Immersion simply provides these most effectively.
There are more than 14 different theories out there that have been accepted as benchmarks for the study of second language acquisition. However, Freeman and Freeman (2009) have recently performed research stating how the processes for NATIVE language learning are no different than second language learning. Therefore, the best way to learn a second language as adults is through a) a low affective filter, b) a motivating and relevant tasks, c) consistent and immersed exposure, d) adding writing, reading, and problem solving tasks.
Chomsky, Bandura, Vygotsky et al would also agree that constructivism (building upon current knowledge, creating schema and what not) is essential for learning new skills and information. Therefore, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, we should look at the natural and easy way that small children grasp, process and then produce any language given to them, and we should study that rather than going from the top down.
The Key word, however is low- affective filter! A.K.A= no stress
Only when one is immersed, does one feel the absolute and complete need to learn the language, which is a great motivator. For, as long as there are avenues down which the individual can speak his/her language, he/she will continue to do so and not learn a new language.
For instance, when one military family moved to Germany, their children, who had no one to play with other than German children, knew enough in three days to be able to engage with this children in their various games. Thus immersed and motivated, the children learned quickly.
I agree that complete immersion (or as complete as possible) is by far the best way to learn another language. I also am immediately suspicious of many of these programs that promise that you can gain competency (whatever that means) in a foreign language within weeks, with very little effort. I think that some people have a natural aptitude for learning languages, but that for many people, even with total immersion, it is difficult and slow.
Infants acquire language by observing, listening, and imitating the use of language by those around them. This is why children who are hard of hearing face significant difficulties in learning to communicate - they are not able to understand or recognize the sounds being spoken or to distinguish the differences enough to associate the words with specific meanings.
Language, as stated by prior posters, is learned through submersion. Parents talk to their infants, name things as they ask for them, and have children repeat words to learn them. My French teacher (in high school) told our class that living in a place is a far better way to learn a language than the simple study of it.
We learn language most easily by being immersed in that language. That's how we learn as infants. It's how I learned my second language. You live somewhere (particularly as a kid) and you just listen to people and see what words seem to mean what things and eventually you learn just through this constant exposure.
It seems to get tougher as you get older. For whatever reason, our brains aren't quite as receptive to learning language as we move into adulthood. At that point, learning a language requires a lot of study, which is something we didn't have to do to learn our first language as toddlers.
Language is usually learned as a young child and this can be through school or from our parents. Usually we provide clues and mix our languages with other forms that make us understand "oh this is an Apple". Repetition is also key to language learning.
Learning language is an interesting and fascinating concept that scientists have honestly not completely figured out. Many people have theories, but unfortunately no one knows for sure. Some of the theories are as follows:
- As babies we learn languages and accents from the older humans around us. Our parents, siblings, relatives, etc, all talk to us and teach us their common language
- There are also people who grow up bilingual (are fluent in two languages). Usually this is caused by having one language spoken fluently at home but another being spoken outside the home, such as in parts of Canada that still speak French and English
- As adults it is more difficult to learn languages, so it is best to start learning a second language at a young age.
- Repetition is key for children and adults alike. In order to learn and master something new you must practice quite often
Hope this helps!
If you want to know about learning language, you go to the boss. Steven Pinker...