You are likely to have heard someone say that someone is a "natural" at an activity such as a sport, playing an instrument or learning and speaking a second language. While it is true that some people may have an easier time learning new languages, several factors may be involved in the ease of language learning. While some research studies have shown that the way the brain is wired can give you an advantage when trying to master a new language (www.jneurosci.org/content/36/3/755.short), other factors such as the learning environment and the willingness to take risks can have a big impact in the process. I have known people over the years that did not want to try speaking Spanish because they were concerned about what others may think about their pronunciation or mistakes they might make. Other less self-conscious individuals, willing to make mistakes, would soar during the process of becoming fluent.
Another factor in mastering a new language is motivation and determination. This is an area that has been studied previously. If you are willing to make the effort and take the time to work hard, good results can be achieved in a reasonable amount of time. Both intrinsic (motivated from within due to the activity itself) and extrinsic motivation (motivated by other factors such as making more money, getting a good grade, etc) have been studied as a factor in second language learning (www.arcjournals.org/pdfs/ijsell/v3-i2/12.pdf).
So go ahead and teach your brain new tricks, exercise your brain to the fullest and do not give up in your quest of becoming bilingual or multilingual. The benefits of being bilingual are numerous (www.spanishforbabiesandtoddlers.com/blog/thinking-about-introducing-a-second-language-to-your-child) and worth the effort of conquering the hesitation of coming out of shell or out of your comfort zone as you stumble through the process of second language acquisition as an adult. While you may hear often that the best time to learn a new language is as a child (www.spanishforbabiesandtoddlers.com/blog/earlier-is-better), adults are also capable with the right attitude, dedication, motivation and willingness to take risks. So, don't be shy, learn a second language.....
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The way your brain is "organized" determines in part how good you will be at learning a second language. However, it is still unclear how other factors might affect your ability to learn a second language. Things like motivation and dedication to learning can have an impact as well. Nobody should be discouraged from learning a new language in adulthood. If you have the determination and work ethic to become fluent in another language you can definitively do it. While some people have a natural ability to learn a second language that makes it easier to achieve fluency, anyone can make up for not being a "natural" at it by working hard. Just like other activities such as sports, a musical instrument or even being good at cooking or at your job, it takes focus and attention to detail to master anything. Below is a portion of an article by Brianna Yamasaki from the University of Washington on this topic:
"A new brain measure for language aptitude. When we correlated our measures with learning rate, we found that patterns of brain activity that have been linked to linguistic processes predicted how easily people could learn a second language.
Patterns of activity over the right side of the brain predicted upwards of 60 percent of the differences in second language learning across individuals. This finding is consistent with previous research showing that the right half of the brain is more frequently used with a second language.
Our results suggest that the majority of the language learning differences between participants could be explained by the way their brain was organized before they even started learning.
Implications for learning a new languageDoes this mean that if you, like me, don’t have a “quick second language learning” brain you should forget about learning a second language?
Language learning can depend on many factors.
First, it is important to remember that 40 percent of the difference in language learning rate still remains unexplained. Some of this is certainly related to factors like attention and motivation, which are known to be reliable predictors of learning in general, and of second language learning in particular.
Second, we know that people can change their resting-state brain activity. So training may help to shape the brain into a state in which it is more ready to learn. This could be an exciting future research direction.
Second, language learning in adulthood is difficult, but the benefits are large for those who, like myself, are motivated by the desire to communicate with others who do not speak their native tongue."
You can find the full article here: theconversation.com/why-its-hard-for-adults-to-learn-a-second-language-61477
As parents we struggle to take care of the basics things every day at home with the kids: homework, meals, sports, referee for sibling fights, instrument lessons / practice, etc. Once you add a job and keeping the house clean, who has time to think of a second language? Most people likely feel that one language is more than enough with so many other things to take care of on a daily basis. As my brother stated to my parents when he was around 8 years old living in Venezuela and not wanting to learn English - "why do I need to learn English? everyone I know speaks Spanish". Little did he know then that he would end up going to college in the United States and the English my parents "forced" him to learn was very helpful.
We strive to give our children the best education possible and as many tools as we can to help them be successful adults. A second language can be one of the greatest gifts you give your child. Even if you are not able to teach them enough for them to be fluent, the exposure to that language will still provide benefits (www.spanishforbabiesandtoddlers.com/blog/thinking-about-introducing-a-second-language-to-your-child-here-are-some-reasons-why-you-definitively-should). Parents may think that the tedious work of exposing their child to another language may not be worth it but many do not know that a lot of the benefits gained do not require for the child to become fully fluent. Better attention and focus, improved memory, increased ability to learn another language later in life, improved communication skills, improved brain efficiency, and improved problem-solving skills are among many of the benefits of exposure to a second language.
Besides the obvious advantages of speaking a second language such as being able to communicate with so many other people, becoming more marketable in the job market, potentially making more money and having more opportunities in general, some of the "hidden" benefits mentioned above are just too great to ignore. All of those benefits can have a significant impact in all aspects of your child's life.
No matter how difficult it may be to "squeeze" yet another thing into your already crazy life, introducing a second language is something that you should strongly consider as it is a gift for your child that will keep on giving the rest of their lives.
Learning a new language can be a difficult task as it takes a lot of practice and patience. There are many reasons why you may choose a particular language to learn as an adult. Where you live and the prevalence of a particular language around you may be a reason why you may choose a language or possibly because of the type of work you do or the countries around the world that you may want to visit.
Parents typically choose a language to teach their children based on their heritage although many parents are very proactive these days when it comes to thinking ahead as to which language may benefit their children the most in the future.
If you or your children just want to be able to speak a different language you may want to consider which languages are the easiest to learn for English speakers.
Languages that have similar sentence structure, alphabet and sounds as English are easier for English speakers to learn. Spanish is easy to learn for English speakers as it has only ten blended vowel sounds (diphthong) along with the same English alphabet except for a few letters. Also, once you learn the Spanish vowel sounds, it is not difficult to read Spanish words by making the sound of the consonant (which is mostly the same in English) along with the sound of the vowel. Basically, words are pronounced the way they are written. Additionally, in many areas of the United States there are opportunities to be exposed to Spanish much more readily than any other language making the learning process easier.
Ultimately, the decision as to which language to learn should be based on your particular interests as you will be much more motivated to become proficient in a language that you enjoy. Spanish is a good choice for English speakers in the United States due to the reasons discussed above plus the prevalence of Spanish speakers in many communities around the country. Being fluent in Spanish can open many doors in the job market as well as opportunities to meet and interact with many more people.
Introducing Spanish early to children can have many benefits (www.spanishforbabiesandtoddlers.com/blog/thinking-about-introducing-a-second-language-to-your-child-here-are-some-reasons-why-you-definitively-should) especially before the age of 5 years old. Therefore, if you have little ones at home and are considering introducing Spanish, do not wait as earlier is better (www.spanishforbabiesandtoddlers.com/blog/earlier-is-better).
Spanish speaking people living in communities where English is the most prevalent language face the challenge to teach their children Spanish. A lot of children in these communities speak only English in school and with their friends so they have limited exposure to Spanish outside their homes. Often they prefer to speak English at home as well as they develop a comfort level with the language due to the daily exposure in school. Many parents do the best they can to make sure their children learn and use Spanish as much as possible but if they do not master the language to a high level it is unlikely that they will speak Spanish at home to their children in the future.
According a Pew Research Center article, Census Bureau projections show that the share of Hispanics who speak only English at home will rise from 26% in 2013 to 34% in 2020. Over this time period, the share who speak Spanish at home will decrease from 73% to 66%. This trend could be due to a number of reasons. Many immigrants prioritize the need for their children to learn and speak English so that they can be successful in school and in the job market. At times this can happen at the expense of maintaining the native language at home. Children strive to fit in with the new culture and prefer to speak the language spoken in the community and by their friends.
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center National Survey of Latinos, "Latino adults who are the children of immigrant parents are most likely to be bilingual. Among this group, 50% are bilingual. They found that as of 2012, Latinos with immigrant parents (defined as those born outside the U.S. or those born in Puerto Rico) made up roughly half (48%) of all U.S.-born Hispanics. By comparison, a third (35%) of Hispanic immigrants are bilingual, as are a quarter (23%) of those with U.S.-born parents". This findings appear to indicate that children of Hispanic parents that immigrated to the US are more likely to be bilingual compared to the children of Hispanic parents that were born and raised in the US.
Another interesting finding of this survey is that with each passing generation of immigrants, the percentage of Spanish speakers or bilingual speakers diminishes significantly. With each passing generation the likelihood that parents will make the effort to continue speaking Spanish at home becomes less prevalent. This trend can be partly due to Spanish speaking people marrying non-Spanish speakers which makes it more challenging to have the children learn the language.
Spanish can survive in the US but it will be up to second and third generation parents to take the time and make the effort to pass on this beautiful language to their children. Also, new immigrants will be first generation Spanish speakers that will keep the language alive and well for generations to come.
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