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It has often been said that children are able to learn foreign languages more easily than adults. However, this belief may be wrong. At least that is what a recent study, carried out by the University of Haifa in Israel,  suggests. The  study showed that a person’s age does not influence the time required to learn a foreign language.

In brief, the experiment involved three groups of people of different ages: the first was comprised of eight year old children; the second group was represented by young people aged 12 years. The third group was made up of adults. A fictitious language rule was explained to all the groups, based on pronouncing verbs in a different ways when referring to animate or inanimate objects. After the class, each of the three groups received a list of verbs and was asked to pronounce them in accordance with another list of words. The 12 year old and adult groups scored 90% on the test, while children of eight years responded mostly in a random way.

Thus, it was proved that adults have an easier understanding of the rules implicit in a foreign language. According to the study, differences in learning have nothing to do with age or the brain, but are because children are more open than adults to error correction and criticism; it is also due to the method used to teach children a language, which is based on receiving feedback when mistakes are made. These important findings contrasted the widespread myth that we all have always believed about the children’s language learning abilities.

The results of the study have been presented at the International Congress for the Study of Child Language in Montreal (Canada), and have already been questioned by some researchers. There are actually numerous studies on the relative abilities or inabilities of language learners of different ages. Personally, I prefer to believe the results that say age is not a detriment to language learning, and that people of all ages can be accomplished language learners, particularly self-motivated adults.Siempre se ha dicho que los niños son capaces de aprender lenguas extranjeras con mayor facilidad que los adultos. Sin embargo, es posible que estemos equivocados. Al menos eso es lo que sugiere un reciente estudio, llevado a cabo por la Universidad de Haifa en Israel, el cuál demuestra que la edad de una persona no influye en el tiempo necesario para aprender un idioma extranjero.

Este experimento se realizó con tres grupos de personas de diferentes edades: el primero compuesto por niños de ocho años, el segundo representado por jóvenes de 12 años. El tercer grupo estaba formado por adultos. Se explicó a todos los grupos una regla de un lenguaje ficticio que consistía en pronunciar los verbos de distinta manera según su referencia a objetos animados o inanimados. Después de la clase, cada grupo recibió una lista de verbos para que los pronunciaran de acuerdo con otra lista de palabras. El grupo formado por pesonas de 12 años y el grupo de adultos obtuvo un 90% de aciertos en la prueba, mientras que los niños de ocho años respondieron en su mayoría de forma aleatoria.

De este modo, se comprobó que los adultos cuentan con una mejor comprensión de las reglas implícitas en un idioma extranjero. Según el estudio, las diferencias en el aprendizaje no tienen nada que ver con la edad o el cerebro de una persona, sino que se deben a que los niños se muestran más abiertos que los adultos a la corrección de errores y la crítica así como al  método empleado para enseñar a los niños una lengua, que se basa en la corrección constante de errores. Estos importantes hallazgos contradicen el famosos mito sobre las habilidades de los niños en cuanto al aprendizaje de idiomas.

Estos resultados han sido presentados en el Congreso Internacional para el Estudio del lenguaje infantil en Montreal (Canadá), y ya ha sido cuestionados por algunos investigadores. Existen otros muchos estudios sobre la relación entre la edad de los estudiantes de idiomas de diferentes edades y su capacidad de aprendizaje. Personalmente, prefiero creer la versión de que la edad no representa un problema  y que todas las personas, independientemente de su edad, pueden estudiar un idioma nuevo, especialmente si están motivados y dispuestos a aprender.

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