A child learning how to speak doesn’t need language camps, grammar tests or to learn vocabulary by rote. It subconsciously learns how to communicate in the natural process of language socialization. We can reproduce this process and use it to learn foreign languages even in adulthood. A child needs 3 years of continuous, unconscious learning to do that. For a conscious adult it will take much less time.
An infant: stress, rhythm, increase and decrease in the rate of voice
A baby recognizes sounds produced by their parent and automatically responds to them with a particular emotion. When mother raises her voice, the child will react with fear. At this stage, intonation is more important than the spoken words. The same signals are perfectly received by a brain of an adult. Therefore, when learning the word ‘big’, it will be much easier to memorize it if you put an emphasis on its meaning with a specific intonation. So instead of saying ‘big’, repeat b-IIIIII-g in order to let your brain know how big the described item is.
4 months old: it distinguishes spoken language from sounds
The next stage of learning is about distinguishing between spoken language (hello) and sounds (oh). Child learning a language is immersed in it every day. You should also use the so-called total immersion, and thus, surround yourself with the language that you wish to learn. Listen (at this stage without understanding) to the radio in a given language for a minimum of 30 minutes a day.
6 months old: babbling
It is easier to turn babble into words, than to speak fluently when starting from silence. The transfer of this scheme into the field of learning a foreign language is not acceptable to most adults. First, you speak, and only then you understand. You can’t go into the pool for the first time in your life, already knowing how to swim. It is impossible. You won’t learn how to speak with understanding, if you haven’t been repeating without understanding earlier. Listening to a foreign language is only effective if you repeat what you’ve heard. Understanding comes later.
8 months old: recognition of boundaries
When listening to a completely new language, we are not able to grasp where one sentence ends and where another one begins. This boundary gets recognized by children at the age of 8 months. An adult man, if properly immersed in the language, masters this ability much quicker.
1 year old: rejection of sounds that are not used
At this stage, child uses approximately 50 words. In English, (depending on the source) there are 1.5 million words. An educated Englishman knows about 20-25 thousand words. It means that most of his native language remains beyond his knowledge. The same structure translates into every language. If you are not a lawyer, you do not need to know the different types of cession or receivables. As someone who doesn’t deal with chemistry on a daily basis, you do not know the names of all chemicals. Out of those 20 thousand, the same Englishman in 90% uses 2-3 thousand words, and in 80% only about 800 words. It means that most of the words are statistically irrelevant. Therefore, to optimally learn a foreign language you should base on the most popular language-specific words. A list of those words can be easily found on the Internet.
1.5 years old: the difference between verbs and nouns
1.5 years old child distinguishes the verbs from nouns, but mainly uses nouns. Children subconsciously know that the verb – in a sentence equipped with proper nouns – is default. That’s why they say “I water”, knowing that the verb “drink” is implied, and that the message will be understood. Unfortunately, at school we start learning the language by memorizing verbs. The verb “do” is an abstract, so you cannot memorize it basing on any real associations. Another obstacle is the ambiguity of verbs. English word ‘to set’ has at least 32 meanings. One of them revolves around setting time in the watch. If you are wandering the streets of London, hoping to set the correct time on your watch, I guarantee you that approaching someone on the street and saying “I… watch” while pointing at your wrist, you will be told what time it is.
2 years old: basic structure of sentences
A child at this age can formulate infinitive phrases. When learning a language, you shouldn’t focus on trying to be extremely correct in terms of structues. From the very beginning, speak ungrammatically and only later on work on improvements. It is better to say “I be to the cinema yesterday ” than not to say anything, thinking what tense should be used to express yourself properly. When speaking with infinitives, however weird it may sound, you will be understood. Relationally it enables us to communicate with another person, which has been our goal from the beginning.
3 years old: 90% of the language used is correct
A 3-year-old child has already mastered the grammar – with some exceptions. Therefore, the grammar rules are the last stage of their learning. The child has no idea what ablative or genitive are, but repeats the complete structures, which automatically become something natural and default. Learning on the basis of ready-made sentence structures – e.g. “I’m feeling cold, so I’ll put on a hat” – we assimilate a complete linguistic pack, which is much easier to use.
If after 10 years of education you’ve finished school with a feeling that you do not have linguistic skills, I have a surprise for you. This is nonsense! As a child, you unconsciously learned the Polish language, which (perhaps besides Mandarin) is the most difficult language in the world. Learning foreign languages broadens horizons, enhances intelligence and gives you the opportunity to explore unique knowledge, culture and people. If you apply an effective model of learning and motivate yourself appropriately, it won’t be difficult at all.