Parents often wonder what age is best for their child to start learning English. Is it really the sooner, the better? My answer to this question is: yes. A preschool or early school child’s speech organs are extremely malleable so they are capable of pronouncing English phonemes properly.
The sooner the better
English phonological system is acquired by children naturally through active games, songs and rhymes thanks to which they learn a correct intonation and pronunciation. Children do not feel ashamed during [th] sound practice when they are to slip their tongue tips between or just behind their teeth and blow air out. In other hand, adults learners feel a lot of resistance to these exercises as they consider this action as unnatural, impolite and even unhygienic (nobody wants to be a funny spitting llama).
Old dogs and new tricks
While teaching adults, I have encountered the same problem with [r] sound exercises which in Polish is hard, rhotic, alveolar thrill and in English is a semi hard post-alveolar approximant. Adults do not want to make a fool of themselves in the class and they feel ridiculously during those exercises. They keep telling me that they will practice in front of their mirrors but in privacy of their homes. Obviously, hardly anyone keeps their promise and as a result in most cases it ends up with establishing bad phono-articulation habits. Disheartening for practice also results from articulation muscle stiffness which comes with age but do not give up! It just needs some more time, effort and energy to do it right.
Please remember that a proper assimilation of a phonological system from early years will affects your future listening comprehension which is also quite hard to acquire in later days. Familiarizing with the melody of the English language, its rhythm and intonation will pay off later during teen age. Their conscious learning process will be boost by those unconsciously learned grammar and vocabulary patterns from the past. Don’t you believe me? How many times you hum English ABC kindergarten song while leafing through a dictionary to find a given word faster?
The longer we wait, the harder it gets?
Unfortunately, there is observed a slight decrease in cognitive abilities in the later stages of life. This process is mainly caused by the weakening of short-term memory. According to Edward Lee Thorndike, an American psychologist and the creator of connectionism, our cognitive abilities do not change until the age of 35, then they decrease slightly at a rate of 1 percent per year. Since those abilities decline gradually, gently and slowly, the age of language learners cannot be any longer an excuse not to take increased efforts in assimilation of new language skills. Cognitive function can be supported in various ways, for instance: an active lifestyle, daily memory exercises and a low sodium diet containing minerals and trace elements necessary for the correct brain work. Therefore, the most important factor is a motivation of adult learners not their age or body limitations.
It’s never too early or too late to learn.