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List of common misconceptions about language learning

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Title: List of common misconceptions about language learning  
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Subject: Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery, Misconceptions, Processability theory, Comprehensible output, Second-language acquisition
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List of common misconceptions about language learning

The subject of language learning is subject to several misconceptions. The general public tend to rely on their own intuitions about language learning, in ways they would not with other technical subjects such as physics (a phenomenon known as folk linguistics).[1] However, these intuitions are often contradicted by the scientific research.[2]

Contents

  • Child language acquisition 1
    • Children learn their first language effortlessly 1.1
  • Second-language acquisition 2
    • Younger learners learn languages more easily than older learners 2.1
    • Intelligent people are better at learning languages 2.2
    • Immersion is the best way to learn a language 2.3
    • Grammar study is detrimental to second-language acquisition 2.4
  • Bilingual education 3
    • Learning a second language hinders the development of the first language 3.1
    • Once a child can speak a language, the language-learning process is complete 3.2

Child language acquisition

Children learn their first language effortlessly

Learning a first language is not effortless for children, nor is it quick. Children spend years learning their mother tongue, and the process continues well into their school years. At seven years old, for example, many children have difficulties creating passive-voice sentences.[3]

Second-language acquisition

Younger learners learn languages more easily than older learners

It is often assumed that young children learn languages more easily than adolescents and adults.[2][4] However, the reverse is true; older learners are faster. The only exception to this rule is in pronunciation. Young children invariably learn to speak their second language with native-like pronunciation, whereas learners who start learning a language at an older age only rarely reach a native-like level.[4]

Intelligent people are better at learning languages

General intelligence is actually quite a poor indicator of language-learning ability. Motivation, tolerance for ambiguity, and self-esteem are all better indicators of language-learning success.[5]

Immersion is the best way to learn a language

The ability for learners to develop their language skills depends to a large extent on the type of language input that they receive. For input to be effective for second-language acquisition, it must be comprehensible. Merely being immersed in a second-language environment is no guarantee of receiving comprehensible input. For example, learners living in a country where their second language is spoken may be lucky enough to interact with native speakers who can alter their speech to make it comprehensible; but equally, many learners will not have that same luck, and may not understand the vast majority of the input that they receive.[6]

In addition, adult learners living in a foreign country may not have very high linguistic demands placed on them, for example if they are a low-level employee at a company. Without the incentive to develop high-level skills in their second language, learners may undergo language fossilisation, or a plateau in their language level.[6]

Classroom instruction can be useful in both providing appropriate input for second-language learners, and for helping them overcome problems of fossilisation.[6]

Grammar study is detrimental to second-language acquisition

The study of grammar is helpful for second-language learners, and a lack of grammar knowledge can slow down the language-learning process. On the other hand, relying on grammar instruction as the primary means of learning the language is also detrimental. A balance between these two extremes is necessary for optimal language learning.[7]

Bilingual education

Learning a second language hinders the development of the first language

Learners can learn two or more languages without their first language development being adversely affected. There is no such thing as a "fixed amount of space" for languages in the brain. In reality, learners' first languages and their additional languages become part of an integrated system.[8]

Once a child can speak a language, the language-learning process is complete

Learning to

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