Learning how to learn from how kids learn—What can we learn about how to learn language, from looking at the way kids learn?
We have talked a lot about the differences between the ways kids learn language and the ways adults learn. For these reasons, we should not think we are going to learn exactly the way kids do. But there are some ways we can learn about how to learn languages, by seeing how kids learn. What are they?
- Kids memorise. By the time they are five, most kids are like little memory banks. They have all kinds of language in their heads, word-for-word: song lyrics, words for games, nursery rhymes, and so on. Many three-year-olds know all the words of their favourite story books. All this memorised language gives them ready-made templates for making new language of their own.
- Kids repeat. They never seem to get tired of it! This is in part how they memorise so much. I think that adults, too, will learn language a lot better if they are willing to repeat things, sometimes exactly, sometimes many times.
- Kids learn to use their language in connection to the reality of their lives. For example, when little kids talk, a lot of it is about themselves! As adults, we have learnt social rules that tell us it is bad manners to talk about yourself non-stop. But inside, we are just as obsessed with ourselves as kids! It is good to know this and use it when learning a language – the more you can use the language to talk about what matters to you, the easier it will be to learn.
- Kids don't translate into another language as they learn. They can't – their native language is their first! So what do they do instead? They connect the language directly to their world (for more, see "Get your native language out of the way"). Learn from them. Connect your new language directly to your life.
These are the main things I think we should learn from kids, but there are many others:
- Kids are not fussy; they will learn anything.
- Kids have fun.
- Kids don't care whether things are true or not – they are very good at pretending and imagining (we adults should just make stuff up too!).
- Kids are immersed in the language they learn.
- Kids live in situations where they have to use the language to get what they want – we should try to put ourselves in situations like that too.
There are probably still more . . . What can you think of? Tell us!
The most important thing we can learn from looking at how little kids learn language, then, is this –
- Connect language directly to the reality of your life; then repeat it, even memorise it.
- Immerse yourself in it – surround yourself with as much of the language you want to learn as possible.
- And as much as you can, make sure it's fun!*
(*One way to do this is to write scripts about your own life, and then have Edited by Poligo. Then record them and memorise them! Try it!)