I recently stumbled upon an academic article on how reading books fosters language development around the world. In the article the authors list the ideal environment to foster language acquisition in children, or in the words of the authors the ideal “environmental support for language learning”, these are:
- Children need to hear many words often
- Children learn words when they are interested
- Children learn best when adults are responsive to them
- Words are learned when meaning is made clear
- Vocabulary and grammar are learned together
- Keep it positive
I found really interesting that this type of environment is actually also the ideal one for an adult language learner.
It is well known that repetition is essential to transfer new vocabulary from short to long-term memory (point 1; see also the buzz on spaced repetition software).
It also well acknowledged that adults learn more and better when they are motivated and interested in what they hear (point 2; Is any surprise that people seem to learn really well a language when they are in a relationship with a foreign partner?)
Active learning seems to be much more efficient to acquire and retain new information (point 3).
The importance of being exposed to comprehensible input is also widely discussed by many language bloggers (point 4).
The fact that grammar is acquired while learning the language and not separately from it is also widely discussed and I recently wrote about the process of learning grammar without actually studying it.
Finally, many agree with a positive mentality, the belief that learning is achievable and a “can do” attitude is very important among adult language learners. There is even some study that suggests that people in a good mood are able to process more information than people in a bad mood.
The differences between children and adults in learning languages are often pointed out and many times they are used as a great alibi to not learn a language or for bad results. It seems to me that many of the factors that influence effective language acquisition among children are the same that affect language acquisition among adults.