Why kids learn languages more easily than you do


  Learning a second language is tricky at any age (and it only gets tougher the longer you wait to crack open that dusty French book). Now, in a new study, scientists have pinpointed the exact age at which your chances of reaching fluency in a second language seem to plummet: 10.


  The study, published in the journal Cognition, found that it's "nearly impossible" for language learners to reach native-level fluency if they start learning a second tongue after 10. But that doesn't seem to be because language skills go downhill.


  It turns out you're still learning fast," says study co-author Joshua Hartshorne, an assistant professor of psychology at Boston College. "It's just that you run out of time, because your ability to learn starts dropping at around 17 or 18 years old."


  People who start a few years after age 10 may still become quite good at a language, the authors say, but they are unlikely to become fluent. Kids may be better than adults at learning new languages for many reasons.


  Children’s brains are more plastic than those of adults, meaning they’re better able to adapt and respond to new information. “All learning involves the brain changing,” Hartshorne says, “and children’s brains seem to be a lot more adept at changing.”


  Kids may also be more willing to try new things (and to potentially look foolish in the process) than adults are. Their comparatively new grasp on their native tongue may also be advantageous.


  Unlike adults, who tend to default to the rules and patterns of their first language, kids may be able to approach a new one with a blank slate. These indings may seem discouraging, but it was heartening for scientists to learn that the critical period for fluent language acquisition might be longer than they previously thought.


  Some scientists believed that the brief window closes shortly after birth, while others stretched it only to early adolescence. Compared to those estimates, 17 or 18 — when language learning ability starts to drop off — seems relatively old.


  For the study, the researchers created an online quiz promising to guess people's native language, dialect and home country based on their responses to English grammar questions.


  At the end of the quiz, people entered their actual native language, if and when they had learned any others and where they had lived. The quiz went viral: almost 670,000 people took it, giving the researchers huge amounts of data from English speakers of many ages and backgrounds.


  Analyzing the responses and grammar mistakes allowed them to draw unusually precise conclusions about language learning. The findings also offer insights for adults hoping to pick up a new tongue. People fared better when they learned by immersion, rather than simply in a classroom.


  And moving to a place where your desired language is spoken is the best way to learn as an adult, says Hartshorne.


  If that's not an option, you can mimic an immersive environment by finding ways to have conversations with native speakers in their own communities, Hartshorne says. By doing so, it's possible to become conversationally proficient—even without the advantage of a child's brain.




  tricky  adj. 狡猾的;机警的;棘手的

  pinpoint  vt. 查明;精确地找到;准确描述 adj. 精确的;详尽的 n. 针尖;精确位置;极小之物

  plummet  n. 铅锤,坠子 vi. 垂直落下;(价格、水平等)骤然下跌

  tongue  n. 舌头;语言 vt. 舔;斥责;用舌吹 vi. 说话;吹管乐器

  adept  adj. 熟练的;擅长…的 n. 内行;能手

  discourage  vt. 阻止;使气馁

  dialect  n. 方言,土话;同源语;行话;个人用语特征 adj. 方言的

  immersion  n. 沉浸;陷入;专心

  mimic  vt. 模仿,摹拟 n. 效颦者,模仿者;仿制品;小丑 adj. 模仿的,模拟的;假装的