Mother tongues

 How do children learn their mother tongues?

Back to the "Elementary level" article.

We all started our apprenticeship of foreign languages at the lowest level, sometimes not even knowing how to say "hello". 

We even started life at the lowest level of knowledge and competence in our mother tongue. In French, the word enfant, which means child, comes from the Latin word infans which meant "non speaking". 

As toddlers, we have the mental capacity to memorize all the language sounds that exist on Earth, but we finally learn to recognize and pronounce only the sounds of our mother tongue(s), and we forget all the other sounds, as we haven't actually heard and learnt them. 

Babies learn their mother tongue(s) naturally, by first listening, then understanding, little by little, the differences between sounds, then understanding the words, then the sentences, and finally, one day, they are capable of repeating, and talking. 

Babies keep their full capacity to learn sounds until the age of twelve months, however very young children also keep an excellent capacity for learning new languages for a few more years: if you decide to go and live in another country and put your four year old child in school there, they will quickly learn the new language and speak it with no accent at all.

Adults could try to learn a language the way babies do, of course, but then learning the basics of this new language would take years and years, and we do not have the time. 

Also, as adults, even if we learnt the way babies do, we would always keep a foreign accent, even if it is very light, because we haven't stored in our "sounds library" the sounds of this language when we were still babies or very young children. 

Back to the "Elementary level" article.

Looking for something?