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A counterexample to this claim is the experience of families moving internationally. It's always the children who pick up the local language faster.





I disagree that that is a counter-example, but my disagreement is based entirely on supposition.

I would hazard that in those cases, the adults still operate in their own languages as much as they can. The children spend many hours a day in situations where they cannot do so, or where the consequences of language inability are not short-term catastrophic. Schooling, for example. I suspect that in those situations, the adults find ways to continue to operate in their own language, out of necessity; they don't have the luxury of spending several hours a day fumbling their way through basic grammar. Those adults need to work, so they will work where they can continue to use their own language, or at least get by with hand-signals and a hundred words. Often, people moving internationally group together with other immigrants, continuing to operate in their own language and culture. They simply avoid learning.


As an immigrant, that's very accurate. Also for adults no one wants to speak with you for a long time if you aren't already proficient at least on B2 level. It's a visible nuisance for native speakers. Thus adults aren't really immersed. Most of my (and over immigrant) language knowledge is very transactional and limit to shopping and my direct work duties. Surely there are exceptions - some are nearly native level proficient, overs are barely can express basic needs.

From what I keep hearing from other people transitioning between language contexts, that second sentence is what seems to make this the most asymmetrical—put another way, the environment refuses to immerse you as an adult in the same way a child would learn. You won't get the same inputs, you won't get the same idioms; you might get more of a sanitized or limited version.

This is something that I think happens not just with language, but with other traits—personality, skills, etc. A lot of these things can be more mutable than “expected” purely based on what a “self” can withstand, but the expectation itself causes friction and inertia from both directions: the person has to adjust their self-expectations, but also the social environment has to add energy and information to make those changes happen in a way that's integrated with the world. For anything that isn't adequately compartmentalized, sometimes there is no effective framework available; if the people around you already think they know you, either by broad categorization or by previous experience, you have an uphill battle. Children are more socially recognized as mutable, so both adults and child peers are more likely to put in the energy, and they're also placed in roles where experimentation is safe.


Definitely true, again adult interactions are transactional - why bother with idioms, better downgrade to simplified version which can be surely understood. As for kids that true on any language, we known and expect that kids language subset more narrow than adult's that's why we repeat the same phrase multiple times with different wording.

Good job on your English! In this post, you use the word 'overs' twice, where I think you meant 'others'.

Hope that helps :-)


>Often, people moving internationally group together with other immigrants, continuing to operate in their own language and culture. They simply avoid learning.

This certainly does happen. But equally, the adults are often making a much greater conscious effort to learn the local language than the children are, and yet are almost always less successful.

I doubt that it is universally the case that the adults are "less immersed" than the children, but it does seem to be almost universally the case that the children acquire the language faster.


I cannot disagree with that; what I would suggest is that if the adults spent as much time as the children immersed in the language and the necessity of speaking it, I suspect they would do as well if not better.

A few hours a week fumbling with a basic grammar guide is certainly better than a few hours a week immersed and desperate to communicate, but fifty hours a week immersed and desperate to communicate is what the children get and that will always do better than a few conscious hours a week with a basic grammar.

When I say "immersed", I don't just mean "surrounded". I mean it's coming at you, deliberately, and it's your only option for communication that you are desperate to engage in, mind spinning and whirring, latching onto constructs and experimenting with them, every human social fibre in your being that demands you communicate and connect with the people around you (and that is a very strong part of being human) driving the desperate urge to learn the fucking language, on the order of 10 to 16 hours a day.


I get that. I just don’t see any reason to suppose that the children are almost always more immersed than the adults in this sense. There are plenty of scenarios where the adults will have a more urgent need of that sort than the children. For example, my husband moved with his family to the Czech Republic as a teenager where he want to a French language school. His father worked as a diplomat. My husband still learned more Czech than either of his parents.

Well, what can I say? Perhaps your husband is some kind of language learning genius. Perhaps your husand's diplomat father was not so skilled at learning the language of the very nation he was working in. Your husband spent his workdays in school speaking French, his father spent his work days in an embassy speaking probably at least two and maybe more languages. Neither of them immersed.

I suspect, however, that for a typical immigrant, the child does not spend their days in a school taught in a non-local language, but instead simply goes to the local school, and I suspect that for a typical immigrant, the adult does not work in a building whose working language is their own native tongue. Your (husband's) experiences are somewhat offbeat.


I'm not making a claim about the typical experience, I'm saying that it's a near-universal that the children acquire the language faster. To me, that suggests that immersion is unlikely to be the main factor. Even if children are typically more immersed, I doubt this is the case anywhere near as often as it's the case that the children do it faster.

Your position is in accord with the prevailing scientific view on language acquisition. It's unfortunate that HN seems to be less than receptive, considering HN is supposed to be about intellectual curiosity.

Right, but this doesn’t necessarily negate the point as the adults are not immersed to the sane degree as the children. Speaking to each other in their native language. Reading and watching media in their native language etcetera.

I'm not sure why the adults would be "less immersed" in general.

I think adults tend to naturally use past knowledge and experiences to build family comfort zones to preserve native culture. They can stay in touch with past or culturally compatible relationships from native environment (digital nimads).

Kids naturally are still developing their worldview and learning how to make relationships thus new culture and language is just an another step in that process.


I would hazard they deliberately seek out situations in which they can continue to use their native tongue, in which they are already fluent; particulary in terms of employment and social activities.

betaby above, an immigrant, suggests this to be the case.


Language learning is often frustrating. Adults generally have resources, and can use those resources to avoid exposure. Kids don't, and are forced to learn language to accomplish anything at all.

Because if they're hired for a job despite not knowing a language, that language obviously isn't essential to the job, and they won't be expected to use it.

Typically because the school they go to is in the local language, and they're motivated to make friends with kids who speak the local language. Often international business is done in English, so there's less incentive to learn.

A counter example to this counter example is the children of diplomats and stationed secret service bodyguards, some of whom I know. The parents pick up the language faster, with greater fluency and less accent.



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