Let’s face it, there are lots of things kids do better than adults — and learning a second language is one of them. This is because childhood is a “critical period” for language development, according to scientists. Kids’ brains soak up language like sponges, putting them at a linguistic advantage. Learning a new language is just more difficult for us adults.
Do Kids Learn Language Easier (and Quicker) Than Adults?
Brains of 2- and 3-year-olds have up to twice as many connections (or “synapses”) as adult brains, making language acquisition much easier. Our brains gradually eliminate these surplus connections throughout childhood and adolescence during a process called “pruning” or “blooming.” (Essentially, our brains get rid of all the information we no longer need.) With fewer brain connections, we grown-ups struggle with language learning more than preschoolers.
But why does the brain create more connections than it needs?
“The early stages of development are strongly affected by genetic factors,” says The Urban Child Institute. “For example, genes direct newly-formed neurons to their correct locations in the brain and play a role in how they interact.”
Why Preschoolers Learn a Second Language Easier Than Adults
Above is just one theory for why kids learn a second language easier than adults. Another argument suggests that preschoolers have fewer responsibilities (and more time) than adults, and this simply makes learning a second language like Spanish easier. Many of us struggle to learn a new language from scratch because our lives are so busy.
Researchers from the University of Essex in the U.K. studied immigrants learning German as a second language. Brain scans showed immigrants interpreted grammatical mistakes the same way, regardless of age, suggesting environmental (not biological) factors are the reason kids learn a second language easier than adults. Unlike us, they don’t have to worry about work deadlines!
In another study, researchers examined the English skills of native Chinese and Korean speakers, aged 3-39, who arrived in the United States. The research concluded that age had a significant impact on a speaker’s performance for every English grammatical structure. According to the researchers, an adult (or even an adolescent) cannot truly master a second language. It’s just too late.
Whether biological or environmental factors are at play, research shows the benefits of learning a second language like Spanish during childhood. KSS Immersion Schools offers language immersion programs for 2- to 6-year-olds in the Bay Area, with social distancing-compliant classroom environments.
Looking for Spanish language preschool programs? Learn more here!