But this depends on the environment. There are children of immigrants who spend most of their time within their own language community, and many of these people never learn to speak English properly. In Vancouver one third of ESL students were born in Vancouver, mostly to Chinese immigrants.
In my view, to the extent that we can imitate the way a child learns, the better we will learn. By this I mean exposing ourselves to as much of the language as possible, and focusing on communicating rather than on deliberately learning the language. In other words speaking our own language as little as possible, and not being self-conscious about how we sound.
Children learn faster precisely because they don't study grammar. It is the adult, tied up with his grammar study, that learns more slowly. Within a year or so I was speaking fluent English, the same as my peers. My parents who spoke English when they arrived in Canada, never managed to speak error-free English and retained their accents. This is the case with most immigrants who arrived after the age of 18. On the other hand, children who arrive in Canada before the age of 12 or 13, mostly learn to speak fluid and error-free English, as long as they get enough exposure.
As for nine-year-olds saying "fighted" etc., this is a little unusual in my experience. However language develops differently with different individuals. I know friends of my children who could not pronounce their "r"s until their teenage years. These people now speak normally and are successful.
Adults do have some advantages over children, because of their greater life experience and knowledge of adult concepts, and the words for these concepts in their own language. The fact that an adult can discuss philosophy, whereas a five-year-old cannot, does not mean that the adult is a better language learner.
This article would perfectly fit into the new lesson series "Wie wir Sprachen lernen".
But we'll talk about this on Friday!
I don't know why this "had all his needs taken care of" is such an important part of your argument. In the vast majority of cases, if a working person moves to France with a six-year-old son, and the son goes to school and is immersed in French, and the parent goes to work and his immersed in French, they will meet at home in the evening and speak their native language. No difference that can be ascribed to having their knees taken care of.
The six-year-old, by the age of 10 has a good chance of being mistaken for a native speaker. This is not likely to be the case with the adult. If the adult attends some kind of immersion French school aimed at non-native speakers, their chances of success are probably lower then if they work in French and are forced to communicate in French daily. This assumes of course that they are motivated enough to learn on their own so that they will be able to communicate properly at work.
Obviously motivation is an important factor. The child is naturally motivated to communicate and has relatively few inhibitions, in most cases. This is usually not the case with the adult who has more psychological obstacles to overcome. However the adult will probably have a larger vocabulary and be able to read more complicated material. This is a factor of the different interests, levels of general knowledge, and relevant vocabulary of an adult and child. Is not something that is inherent in the ability to learn languages.
A few weeks ago, I´ve started a thread called "Language Learning - Let´s do The Math!", here´s the gist of what I wrote:
"A native speaker at the age of 18 has spend approximately 100,000 hours speaking, writing, listening to or thinking in their native language. 150,000 hours if you count sleeping. (24x365x18)
I had 3 hours of English lessons a week, plus 1 hour of homework (I guess) for 8 years. That ´s 1700 hours. (0.5714something x365x8)
Just look at these numbers, seriously, look at them!^^
Does it really make sense to say that "children are better at language learning"? Isn´t it a miracle to speak at least some xyz-lish after putting so little effort into it?"
I´m pretty sure that an adult would reach a native-like level after being immersed for 100,000 hours. That´s why I don´t think that children are "faster".
As an aside, it may not matter if children are faster. We are what we are. I guess we understand a phenomenon by observing diferential results and circumstances, so perhaps that's why the question arises.
The real goal of an adult language learner is to be precise, not to be native.
I don't think your calculation is all that relevant. Many children become fluent within a few years of arriving in a new country. Fluent, of course, within the limits of the vocabulary of a child of their age. This can happen even if the child speaks with the parents in another language at home. This rarely happens with an adult.
On the other hand a nine year-old knows slang, can describe a lot of practical things or games when most foreigners can't.
I'm not sure that I understand your argument. Are you saying that children are faster because they are more open-minded? Or just because of the situation that they are placed in? I can understand that adults have more on their plate than just language learning, so I can see how a child placed in a French (or whatever language) school would learn faster than an adult that was put in a French for foreigners type class for a fraction of the time. A situation like this is probably what would be the case 95% percent of the time. But if the adult was not bound by work, school, and other commitments and was motivated enough to immerse themselves in the language whole-heartedly do you still believe that the child would be better? I agree that children are naturally motivated, but if the adult was just as motivated or even more, why couldn't they be better?
Well I have been living in Austria for just over a year now. You will not find a seven year old child who has been living in the German speaking world for that long and who can speak about astrophysics in German better than I can.
...I think that's what those in the Scrabble business call check mate!
Myth 1: Children learn second languages quickly and easily
Myth 2: The younger the child, the more skilled in acquiring an L2
Myth 3: The more time students spend in a second language context, the quicker they learn the language
Myth 4: Children have acquired an L2 once they can speak it
Myth 5: All children learn an L2 in the same way
CAL means Center for applied linguistics, like it or not. ;)
I totally agree with your last post!