Today I will be summarizing part of a great article I read when I was doing my Masters degree. The article is called "7 Myths of Language Learning" and it was written by David Nunan, PhD (2011). I have underlined where I have commented on the article.
Adults should learn like children
Why do people think this is true? Firstly, people think that adults learn their second language the same way children learn their mother tongue. The second reason is that children are simply better than adults when it comes to learning languages.
Both are false! Learning your second language is not the same as learning your first language. This has been proven by researchers as far back as the 1970s in linguistics.
Just think about how your first language makes learning your second language more difficult. When learning your second language, often you will apply your first language's grammar to the new language you are learning! So learning a new language involves what is called the interlanguage. The interlanguage is a mix of your first and second language. A great example of this is when Japanese students say the verb at the end of the sentence such as "Apple I eat" which is grammatically wrong in English. Why do they say that? Because they are using Japanese grammar in English! In Japanese, the verb is always last in a sentence.
Another reason why learning a second language is not the same as learning your first has to do with psychology. People learning their second language are more advanced regarding cognitive development. The actual cognitive structures of your brain are different making the process of learning a second language totally different. In other words, you do not process information in the same way.
Lastly, regarding the point that children are better than adults at languages and therefore adults should learn like children sets up people for disappointment. Pushing the natural approach on English learners may work in ESL environments (where English is the main language of the country), however in EFL it is unrealistic. Children learn their first language not because they are better at learning languages, rather they learn because of their situation! Children are immersed in their first language up to 10 hours a day! For adults their situation is very different. Adults have responsibilities, such as work and taking care of family. Adults just do not have the same amount of time to study the language.
So there you have it! Next time someone tells you to learn English the same way a child does, do not listen! They are making false assumptions that are not proven in research. Furthermore, if someone is pushing the natural approach on you they are creating unrealistic expectations for you. Remember, your lifestyle is not the same as a child's lifestyle.