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Can adults learn languages more effectively than children?

In the previous article we touched briefly on whether adults can learn languages more effectively than children. In this article, we'll touch on methodology.

Sentences with Comprehensible Input

What is needed is a list of sentences that contain vocabulary that would be familiar and easy to acquire in context, even if they are new. These sentences are presented in an audio format for the adult, with the native language first followed by the target language sentence. This native language cue tells the adult learner the meaning of what is immediately following.

This list of sentences would progress in a logical way with sentence patterns that people can pick up on through listening alone, then through a series of transformation and extension drills, increase the length and complexity of the sentences, and at the same time increase the range of vocabulary. This in itself actually gives the adult learner more structured practice and exposure to correct language use than a child ever has access to in a natural classroom setting where the only input is the random sentence structures that the teacher uses (incomprehensible) and the repetitive phrases that the children use with each other (limited to a narrow range of social interaction).

Sentences with Spaced Repetition

Most adult learners have extreme time demands in terms of duties to their own children, spouse, and parents; the opportunity to even sit down quietly with a book and focus on something to learn or memorize new things; and frequently a very hectic work schedule.

In order not to put any strain on the adult learner's attention, memory, and scheduling, it's important to have a pre-scheduled audio training program that has built-in review of comprehensible input and sentence patterns. This is known as spaced repetition. Of course a reference of all the sentences and a guide to the pronunciation is absolutely vital as a reference, but in no way should replace the audio or be required study material in order to acquire the foreign language.

How about native pronunciation and fluency?

The adult learner's biggest obstacle to any audio or textbook course currently on the market is actually developing true fluency and a close to native pronunciation of a foreign language. And results vary greatly from language to language.

There are now numerous apps and games on the market that simply gamify a textbook learning approach. Most of these are text based, some provide audio, and almost all of them are focused on individual words. Let me touch on each of these problems in turn in the next article.

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Michael Campbell

Michael Campbell

Polyglot, phonologist, linguist specialising in Formosan, Proto-Austronesian, Sinitic, Slavic, typology, IPA, and L2. Does Glossika training daily.

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Can adults learn languages more effectively than children?
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