|Learn like a child?
Kids have the ability to learn languages quick and effortlessly, and it is said that when you are older, your brain is past the “critical phase” for language learning.
My side notes to this theory:
1. The plasticity of the brain has only recently become a topic of research and the results are astonishing. The brain is hyper plastic and even though through age there are less neuron connections than when we were a kid, the existing connections are much more powerful, better organized and more efficient at learning new things. After severe brain damage, other parts of the brain can take over specific functions through intensive training. There are even paraplegic people who are learning to walk again through intensive training with a robot suit. So how would your brain not be able to do what it was designed for: improving survival by making sense of its new environment! Your brain is never too old to learn.
2. All they have to do is learn. The first 4 years of their lives, kids are learning machines. It’s their only job, basically. They need to eat, sleep, and interact with their surroundings to learn new skills through a process of trial-and-error. You have to do these same things to learn Dutch, while at the same time thinking about and solving stuff around work, your health, your partner, your kids, your sick relative, the new house, the mice in the kitchen, the groceries, the laundry, the bills that need to be paid. There is only so much of your bandwidth that you have available for Dutch, and still you are making progress. So who is the big miracle here, you or the babies?
3. Are kids really that successful? My daughter is first in her class in reading and still at age 11 doesn’t understand all the words in a newspaper article. How successful at language learning are kids really? Most motivated adults who are learning a new language while living in the country achieve a B2 level within 2 years. Most kids need 12-14 years to get there. You have so much more knowledge to rely on, and a brain that over the years has been trained to look for patterns and find meaning, so of course you are faster and more successful at learning than the average kid.
4. Kids are not so easily embarrassed. The big advantage kids have is that their egos are still small and they haven’t lost sight of what language is really for: Communication. So when they make a mistake but still get their message across, they will consider it a job well done. Adults tend to feel more shy and think that others won’t be able to see who they really are without the proper words. Kids know that there is more to you than just the words. Smart kids.