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Why is Learning a Second Language Easier for Kids than Adults?

A child reading a book

If you grew up hearing two languages at home, think about how easy it was for you to pick both of them up. There’s even the possibility of you not being able to remember ever learning either of them at all as if the gift of being fluent in two different languages was built in and always there—nothing you had to make an effort about.

Now compare that to your experience trying to learn a new language in high school or as a grownup. Pretty difficult, right? People generally have a harder time learning new languages later in life compared to learning one as a child.

Bilingual kids don’t just speak two languages; they also switch between both with ease and are able to tell them apart even if they do end up mixing the two while talking. It’s called code-mixing, which is a fairly normal experience for bilingual people.

But why is it that young children have such an easy time picking up a second language while adults struggle to do the same thrice as hard?

Scientifically, It’s Meant to Be

Children’s brains are meant to develop rapidly when they’re young. The phenomenon is known as brain plasticity, wherein kids’ minds are flexible enough to accommodate the formation of millions of new neural connections per second, each of which helps them learn a new function.

Over time, your brain’s ability to form these circuits becomes less efficient the more you master human functions. Your mind comes to be less attentive to detail, and you have a harder telling apart sounds across different languages. So in a way, younger kids inherently have a cognitive advantage when it comes to learning a new language over adults.

A child reading in a library

Social Advantages

When very young kids learn languages, it’s through spontaneous methods. They aren’t made to sit in classrooms and then instructed how exactly to learn the new language. Instead, they learn by passively picking up cues they see in an immersive environment, entirely of their own volition.

What’s more, children tend to have fewer social inhibitions. There’s a lot more room for mistakes simply because very young children don’t care about looking silly. When they make errors, adults don’t usually jump to correct them, so there’s little pressure always to sound right.

There’s Less to Learn

Children have simpler thought patterns, and it reflects in their speech. They use basic sentence structures and say what they want to in fewer words. When kids are learning a second language, they don’t feel burdened to say complex sentences in it simply because they don’t have complex thoughts that need to be verbalized. Adults, on the other hand, naturally feel the need to have a more profound understanding of a new language in order to express themselves fully in it.

It’s a good idea to get your kids to learn a new language very early on. Once the critical period is up, language learning is never again as easy to get the hang of. Help your children become multi-language learners with our unique picture book for children which lets them learn 3 languages at a go. It’s called The Cat, the Fish, and the Waiter and is perfect for a simplified, fun experience during language learning. Order the picture book online now.