It has fallen into our common knowledge that children are simply “better at learning languages” than adults, but is there any scientific basis in this claim? Or are we dealing with a case of grown-up laziness and a lack of desire to pick up new skills?
The journal ‘Cognition’ has sought to investigate this in a more systematic fashion, having uploaded an online grammatical test that has been taken by 670,000 people from a range of ages and nationalities. Participants of the test are asked their age and how long they have been learning English for which is later valuable data to use in analysis.
If you would like to take the test yourself, please do so here.
The grammar test asks participants to assess the “grammaticality” of various sentences which means deciding or not from your gut whether a sentence makes a grammatical sense!
Try to get your head around the following phrase:
The horse raced past the barn fell
Oh, the English language and its imperfections!
Here comes the interesting part… with the test results and information of the linguistic and age background of the participants, scientists have been looking for any interesting correlations, trends and insights about the relationship between age and language proficiency.
Results so far seem to indicate that grammar learning is at its peak in childhood, which extends into the teenage years but around the age of 17 and 18 becomes much more limited. The question facing linguists and scientists now is whether this is something biological or whether there are cultural or social factors at play?
So is there something deeply set within our genes that justifies our finger pointing at menus and shouting words in our native language while on our annual summer holiday? Or could it be that by the time we are 17 or 18, an age of newfound responsibility and awareness of life’s more pressing woes, there’s little time left to consult the French grammar dictionary?