Many people will tell you that children learn languages faster than adults. This is not true. However, it is true that children attain a higher level than adults in the long run (averagely talented children always reach fluency in their native language, adult learners of a second language don’t). It is less clear why this is so. Is it because children’s brains are more plastic and can accommodate more quickly? Or is it simply that they practice relentlessly and have strong psychological and social reasons for correcting their own mistakes and adapting their language to their environment?
I’m inclined to think it is the latter, because after all, practice is what matters most. Children have no alternative to learning their native language if they wish to socialise with their peers and thrive in society. As a a second language learner, however, there are many incentives for not learning a language to a native level. The most important thing is of course immersion. If you are completely immersed in a language and have no alternative, you have no choice but to learn that language. However, as a grown-up Swede studying Chinese, I have lots of other choices. For instance, I’m writing this article in English and I chatted with a friend in Swedish yesterday. This kind of distraction distorts the immersion environment and inevitably leads to reduced language learning.
I have come to realise that if I’m going to learn Chinese to a near-native level, I have to do something drastic. In this case, I have decided to step up the immersion effort, which will mean that from now on, I will put severe restrictions on the use Swedish and English. This will have some quite far-reaching consequences. For instance:
- I’ll stop reading/writing in English or Swedish on Facebook, Twitter and other websites
- I won’t update Snigel.nu or reply to comments in English or Swedish
- I won’t speak Swedish or English and will do my best to change my internal discourse to Chinese
Since I realise that this will cause some problems in the social sphere, considering that most people I know and care about don’t speak Chinese at all, so communicating with these people will of course be a problem. As you know, I’m not an unreasonable person, so I will allow myself to use Swedish or English on Mondays (weekends aren’t good because it would be impossible to contact companies or authorities in Sweden). This means of course that if you try to contact me at any other time, you will either have to wait or hire an interpreter or use Google translate. Some of the finer nuances of your message might be lost in translation, but I’m sure I will get the gist of what you’re saying. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but this is a sacrifice I have to make in order to reach my goals.
This immersion plan starts next week and will be active until further notice, but at least for three months (until the end of June, that is). It’s time to leave the surface and immerse for real. Bye!
*Update: This was of course an Aprils Fool’s Day post and I’m not serious. Everything up to the final few paragraphs are of course reasonable, but scheduling time to talk with family and friends (including receiving phone calls and so n) is quite unreasonable. I will listen and read as much Chinese as I can, but I’ve done that for years and I don’t think my English or Swedish-speaking friends suffer very much.