Member only
Episode
14

What Makes Babies The Ultimate Language Learners?

Jan 3, 2020
Language Learning
-
18
minutes
Language learning

Why are babies so good at language learning, and what can we learn from them to make us better English students?

Today we take a look at 5 qualities that babies have that we should all incorporate into our language learning.

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login
Subtitles will start when you press 'play'
You need to subscribe for the full subtitles
Already a member? Login
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdf
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript only available after your trial

Transcript

[00:00:02] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:10] I'm Alastair Budge. 

[00:00:12] Firstly, Happy New Year. 

[00:00:15] I hope you had an excellent New Year's Eve and that the New Year and the new decade is off to a great start. 

[00:00:25] If you're wondering why we celebrate January the first as New Year and thinking, well, I wish someone would make a fun 10 minute podcast about that, then you probably missed episode 13, the one that came out on New Year's Eve, so that's one to listen to after this. It tells you literally everything about it. 

[00:00:47] It's also time for your customary reminder that if you don't have them already, you can grab a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for the podcast over on the website, which is Leonardoenglish.com 

[00:01:02] Okay, so today we are going to be talking about a subject that's pretty close to my heart.

[00:01:09] Or actually two subjects that are close to my heart. 

[00:01:13] Language learning and babies.

[00:01:15] Language learning because, well, I'm a bit of a language learning geek and I'm fascinated with languages and how people learn them. 

[00:01:27] And babies because a few months ago I became a dad for the first time. So looking after a baby has quickly become quite a feature in my life. 

[00:01:37] So today it's babies and languages.

[00:01:41] We'll discuss why babies are the ultimate language learners and talk about what we can learn from babies about how to learn English more effectively. 

[00:01:51] Babies might not seem like the obvious examples of how to be a good language learner.

[00:01:57] They can't really speak any languages well. 

[00:02:01] They make a load of mistakes, even if they can speak. 

[00:02:04] They don't really ever appear to study. I mean, they don't study. 

[00:02:08] And they don't keep vocabulary books. They never make any notes and they are very easily distracted. 

[00:02:14] So on the face of it, babies don't really have any of the main characteristics that you might traditionally associate with good language learners and good language students. 

[00:02:27] But we can actually learn a huge amount from babies and their results are normally pretty incredible despite all of the deficiencies we've just mentioned.

[00:02:39] So most babies by the age of five or so, they can speak and understand at least one language with some speaking, two or more. 

[00:02:49] I'll have to update you in a few years on the progress of my little baby as he's currently being brought up trilingualy, so three languages. 

[00:02:56] So I speak English to him. His mother speaks Italian to him, and at nursery he'll speak Maltese.

[00:03:03] So most babies can understand and speak at least one language.

[00:03:08] And babies, even if they move to a different country where they speak a different language, the babies normally pick up the language faster than the parents. 

[00:03:17] So babies are pretty good at learning languages. 

[00:03:20] But why is this? 

[00:03:22] Yes, there are all sorts of advantages that babies have.

[00:03:26] Their little brains are like sponges and purely from a neurological point of view, it is easier to take on new information and learn a new language when you are one or two years old rather than 21, 51 or 91. 

[00:03:43] But this shouldn't mean that we adults throw our hands up in the air and admit defeat saying that our old brains just can't absorb new information at the same rate as babies’ brains can.

[00:03:56] Instead, let's look at five of the ways in which we can try to be more like babies to be better language learners. 

[00:04:05] So firstly, babies are naturally curious. 

[00:04:09] For a baby, everything is new. They know nothing. So in order to learn, they have to be curious. They have to ask what something is called. They have to ask or point if they don't understand a word, they're constantly in discovery mode. 

[00:04:28] Just take a look at the next baby you come across when they're awake, of course, their eyes are constantly looking around. 

[00:04:36] They're interested in everything from the wall to the wardrobe, from the fan to a small spoon. 

[00:04:43] They just want to understand the world. 

[00:04:46] As a curious language learner, you should also be constantly trying to learn new words and phrases. 

[00:04:55] You should be asking if you don't understand something, and you should always hunt out new and interesting material to learn from, to look at every single situation as a learning experience. 

[00:05:08] And like a baby, you should be constantly exploring, constantly discovering new words and phrases, and you shouldn't retreat into what you know, but instead reach out into the mysterious yet magical world of what you don't know. 

[00:05:24] So you should be as curious as a baby. 

[00:05:27] So the natural curiosity that babies have is something that's anenviable quality, and I think as adult language learners, we should all try to be a little bit more like babies in that respect. 

[00:05:40] Secondly, babies learn language through acquisition. So multiple studies have shown that the most effective way to learn a language, to be able to speak a language, is through what's called acquisition, not through traditional language learning. 

[00:06:00] So to translate this into plain English, this means that you should improve your English through actually using English, through listening, reading, and consuming content in the target language, in English.

[00:06:16] Doing stuff like listening to this podcast as opposed to listening to boring traditional listening exercises that are nothing like what you would encounter in the real world, or you should be doing stuff like reading original content rather than justporing over vocabulary or grammar books, which will not only be monotonous, and I dare say, quite boring for you, but a lot of studies have shown that they're actually significantly less effective than many teachers and language schools might have you believe

[00:06:52] Babies learn in context, right? 

[00:06:57] So they see a frog and they hear the word frog and they know what it's called. 

[00:07:03] They don't study books with the names of all the animals in.

[00:07:06] Or if they do, they are reading a story about a frog, right? They are learning about the names of animals through a story that tells the name of different animals. 

[00:07:15] So they learn language through acquiring it, through using it in a natural way. 

[00:07:20] Thirdly, babies listen.

[00:07:24] Everyone listens to a certain extent when they learn a language. But nobody listens quite like a baby.

[00:07:31] In fact, babies spend the first six months or so of their lives, mainly just listening. 

[00:07:40] Yes, those first months are full of all sorts of marvelous other learning experiences other than learning language, but babies are constantly in listening mode. 

[00:07:51] From a language learning point of view, they can't really do anything else other than the occasional 'guh' or 'buh' or strange baby sounds.

[00:08:01] One big mistake that many language learners make when they start learning a language is to start speaking right from day one. 

[00:08:12] Yes, there are all sorts of people all over the internet that will tell you that you need to speak from day one, but I just want to say two things about that kind of strategy.

[00:08:24] Firstly, a lot of these courses that will push you into speaking from day one, a lot of them will be actually aimed at English native speakers who are learning a second language to what's called 'holiday standard', right? 

[00:08:39] Being able to have some basic conversations and impress friends and family, and there's nothing wrong with this.

[00:08:46] Indeed. It's an admirable thing that English speakers are pulling their finger out and actually trying to learn another language, but most are not getting to the kind of level that I'm sure you want to be getting to in English. 

[00:09:00] And secondly, there's actually a lot of academic research that shows that a period of listening before actually trying to start to speak is hugely valuable.

[00:09:12] So one of my personal heroes is a guy called Professor Stephen Krashen, and you can just Google him if you're interested, I'm also put some links in the show notes, but a lot of his work suggests that you should actually focus on listening before trying to speak, and students who start their language learning process with a period of listening as opposed to just dashing straight into speaking actually end up speaking better. 

[00:09:46] One of the reasons for this is that speaking right from the beginning can be a very stressful exercise and that language is acquired more easily in low stress situations. I guess you might remember when you first started learning English, speaking in class could be pretty stressful, right?

[00:10:07] And there's a lot of evidence that speaking from the start and being in a stressful environment actually inhibits, it slows down, the speed at which you learn. 

[00:10:19] That's not the only reason to prioritise listening though.

[00:10:22] Another reason is that it's only by listening to native speakers that you will be actually able to understand how native speakers really speak. 

[00:10:32] If you listen to things like this podcast and you're listening to native speakers, then you have direct access to how native speakers construct sentences, pronounce words, and use language in a real way.

[00:10:46] If you just try speaking from day one without first listening or really understanding how native speakers use the language, then you'll probably just use very similar structures to your mother tongue and just translate as you speak. 

[00:11:02] And this is bad. This is really, really bad. 

[00:11:06] Yes, you will probably get more confident at speaking.

[00:11:10] You'll be able to speak faster, and it might appear to you that you're getting more fluent in the sense of words coming out of your mouth more quickly. 

[00:11:19] But if you're not listening critically to how native speakers really speak, and if you're just memorising more words so you can speak more quickly while always just translating from your native tongue, it will be painfully obvious to any English native speaker and you'll continue to make mistake after mistake in your English.

[00:11:42] I'm sure you are all familiar with this kind of English speaker, the kind that speaks really fast, but probably makes loads of mistakes on the way and has poor pronunciation. 

[00:11:55] Don't be like this person. 

[00:11:58] Instead, when you are listening, listen critically, right? 

[00:12:01] If a native speaker uses a particular word, phrase, or structure, ask yourself why they've used it.

[00:12:08] Is it the same as what you would have used? 

[00:12:12] Note it down, remember it, and then try and use it yourself. 

[00:12:15] The key here is to be an active, a critical listener. And so to bring it back to babies, babies, as I said, do a huge amount of listening and they listen before they speak. 

[00:12:27] Of course, this isn't a nuanced, conscious decision. 

[00:12:32] Babies can't speak, so they have to listen first, but we can still follow their example on this. 

[00:12:38] And a final point on listening is to make sure you're listening to actual native speakers, not people who have learned English to a certain degree and who are probably still making mistakes and not pronouncing things in the right way. And, and you'll end up learning from people who have learned themselves and who are inevitably going to make some mistakes.

[00:13:01] So make sure you're listening to native speakers. 

[00:13:03] Number four of the special things that babies do when learning languages is that babies are not afraid to make mistakes. 

[00:13:13] Yeah. Babies have the advantage of being frequently corrected when they make a linguistic mistake, and native speakers might not always correct you if you make a mistake, I'm assuming you're not a baby, but babies couldn't care less when they make a mistake. Right. They just don't care.

[00:13:31] When they make a mistake, they are either corrected by an adult or they hear an adult saying something in a different way and they know that they've made a mistake. 

[00:13:42] So next time or the time after that, or the time after that, they don't make that mistake again. 

[00:13:50] As adult language learners, we are often so self-conscious of making mistakes, but we shouldn't be. Right? 

[00:13:57] There's nothing wrong with making a mistake. Mistakes are how you learn. 

[00:14:02] So as long as you know that you've made a mistake and you make a conscious effort to not make it next time, that's the important thing.

[00:14:10] And our fifth and final example from the life of babies and how they learn languages is that babies are always trying out new things. 

[00:14:22] As an adult language learner, it's easy to retreat into the same comfortable language that we know.

[00:14:28] To use a simple word rather than something more colourful, to always say good instead of excellent, fantastic, marvelous. 

[00:14:38] To be the person who just responds to a question as opposed to asking questions or engaging with the subject matter. 

[00:14:47] But babies and children don't do this.

[00:14:51] They are always trying out new words and phrases.

[00:14:56] Yes, they make mistakes as we talked about in the previous point, but that's the only way that they learn.

[00:15:02] One of the easiest ways in which you can assess the level of English of a non-native speaker is through the kind of vocabulary that they use. So simple doesn't always mean bad, and on occasion, simple is fine and gets the job done and is actually a better way of communicating.

[00:15:25] But if you're striving for fluency, you know that simple isn't always good enough, right? 

[00:15:33] You know that you should say something like, well, striving for fluency instead of trying to be very good. 

[00:15:41] It always puts a smile on my face whenever I come across a child who uses complicated vocabulary, who says a strange, uncommon word, and I always think that this is a enviable quality of children that many adults just lose after a certain amount of time, the quality of just constantly testing out new words and phrases and taking a huge amount of pride and rejoicing when they find an interesting new word. 

[00:16:14] So to conclude, what can we learn about how to learn English from babies and children? It turns out a lot more than one might have originally thought.

[00:16:27] Obviously there are loads of things that babies do that you shouldn't try to emulate as a language learner, but on balance, I think if we all try to be a little bit more like a baby, then I think a lot of us would find ourselves learning just that little bit faster. 

[00:16:45] Right that is it for today. I normally do the thing where I ask or beg or, um, hope that you will give some kind of review or rating to the show.

[00:16:57] And today I'm not gonna do that or I'm not going to do it any more than I've just done. 

[00:17:02] But what I want to do today is ask you a question. So what I would like to know from you is, what do you like about the show? 

[00:17:12] What do you not like and what could we be doing differently? 

[00:17:15] I want your feedback. I want you to tell me what we should be doing and as an extra little bonus incentive for doing so, if you send in the feedback, then I will correct the feedback if there are any mistakes, of course, and send it straight back to you. 

[00:17:32] So you can think about it as a free bit of English writing practice, with me. So what you need to do is just send an email to hi@leonardoenglish.com hi, that's hi@leonardoenglish.com with feedback in the subject line.

[00:17:52] I'm already excited to see what you have to say. 

[00:17:54] Okay. You have been listening to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. I'm Alastair Budge and I'll catch you in the next episode.



Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:02] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:10] I'm Alastair Budge. 

[00:00:12] Firstly, Happy New Year. 

[00:00:15] I hope you had an excellent New Year's Eve and that the New Year and the new decade is off to a great start. 

[00:00:25] If you're wondering why we celebrate January the first as New Year and thinking, well, I wish someone would make a fun 10 minute podcast about that, then you probably missed episode 13, the one that came out on New Year's Eve, so that's one to listen to after this. It tells you literally everything about it. 

[00:00:47] It's also time for your customary reminder that if you don't have them already, you can grab a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for the podcast over on the website, which is Leonardoenglish.com 

[00:01:02] Okay, so today we are going to be talking about a subject that's pretty close to my heart.

[00:01:09] Or actually two subjects that are close to my heart. 

[00:01:13] Language learning and babies.

[00:01:15] Language learning because, well, I'm a bit of a language learning geek and I'm fascinated with languages and how people learn them. 

[00:01:27] And babies because a few months ago I became a dad for the first time. So looking after a baby has quickly become quite a feature in my life. 

[00:01:37] So today it's babies and languages.

[00:01:41] We'll discuss why babies are the ultimate language learners and talk about what we can learn from babies about how to learn English more effectively. 

[00:01:51] Babies might not seem like the obvious examples of how to be a good language learner.

[00:01:57] They can't really speak any languages well. 

[00:02:01] They make a load of mistakes, even if they can speak. 

[00:02:04] They don't really ever appear to study. I mean, they don't study. 

[00:02:08] And they don't keep vocabulary books. They never make any notes and they are very easily distracted. 

[00:02:14] So on the face of it, babies don't really have any of the main characteristics that you might traditionally associate with good language learners and good language students. 

[00:02:27] But we can actually learn a huge amount from babies and their results are normally pretty incredible despite all of the deficiencies we've just mentioned.

[00:02:39] So most babies by the age of five or so, they can speak and understand at least one language with some speaking, two or more. 

[00:02:49] I'll have to update you in a few years on the progress of my little baby as he's currently being brought up trilingualy, so three languages. 

[00:02:56] So I speak English to him. His mother speaks Italian to him, and at nursery he'll speak Maltese.

[00:03:03] So most babies can understand and speak at least one language.

[00:03:08] And babies, even if they move to a different country where they speak a different language, the babies normally pick up the language faster than the parents. 

[00:03:17] So babies are pretty good at learning languages. 

[00:03:20] But why is this? 

[00:03:22] Yes, there are all sorts of advantages that babies have.

[00:03:26] Their little brains are like sponges and purely from a neurological point of view, it is easier to take on new information and learn a new language when you are one or two years old rather than 21, 51 or 91. 

[00:03:43] But this shouldn't mean that we adults throw our hands up in the air and admit defeat saying that our old brains just can't absorb new information at the same rate as babies’ brains can.

[00:03:56] Instead, let's look at five of the ways in which we can try to be more like babies to be better language learners. 

[00:04:05] So firstly, babies are naturally curious. 

[00:04:09] For a baby, everything is new. They know nothing. So in order to learn, they have to be curious. They have to ask what something is called. They have to ask or point if they don't understand a word, they're constantly in discovery mode. 

[00:04:28] Just take a look at the next baby you come across when they're awake, of course, their eyes are constantly looking around. 

[00:04:36] They're interested in everything from the wall to the wardrobe, from the fan to a small spoon. 

[00:04:43] They just want to understand the world. 

[00:04:46] As a curious language learner, you should also be constantly trying to learn new words and phrases. 

[00:04:55] You should be asking if you don't understand something, and you should always hunt out new and interesting material to learn from, to look at every single situation as a learning experience. 

[00:05:08] And like a baby, you should be constantly exploring, constantly discovering new words and phrases, and you shouldn't retreat into what you know, but instead reach out into the mysterious yet magical world of what you don't know. 

[00:05:24] So you should be as curious as a baby. 

[00:05:27] So the natural curiosity that babies have is something that's anenviable quality, and I think as adult language learners, we should all try to be a little bit more like babies in that respect. 

[00:05:40] Secondly, babies learn language through acquisition. So multiple studies have shown that the most effective way to learn a language, to be able to speak a language, is through what's called acquisition, not through traditional language learning. 

[00:06:00] So to translate this into plain English, this means that you should improve your English through actually using English, through listening, reading, and consuming content in the target language, in English.

[00:06:16] Doing stuff like listening to this podcast as opposed to listening to boring traditional listening exercises that are nothing like what you would encounter in the real world, or you should be doing stuff like reading original content rather than justporing over vocabulary or grammar books, which will not only be monotonous, and I dare say, quite boring for you, but a lot of studies have shown that they're actually significantly less effective than many teachers and language schools might have you believe

[00:06:52] Babies learn in context, right? 

[00:06:57] So they see a frog and they hear the word frog and they know what it's called. 

[00:07:03] They don't study books with the names of all the animals in.

[00:07:06] Or if they do, they are reading a story about a frog, right? They are learning about the names of animals through a story that tells the name of different animals. 

[00:07:15] So they learn language through acquiring it, through using it in a natural way. 

[00:07:20] Thirdly, babies listen.

[00:07:24] Everyone listens to a certain extent when they learn a language. But nobody listens quite like a baby.

[00:07:31] In fact, babies spend the first six months or so of their lives, mainly just listening. 

[00:07:40] Yes, those first months are full of all sorts of marvelous other learning experiences other than learning language, but babies are constantly in listening mode. 

[00:07:51] From a language learning point of view, they can't really do anything else other than the occasional 'guh' or 'buh' or strange baby sounds.

[00:08:01] One big mistake that many language learners make when they start learning a language is to start speaking right from day one. 

[00:08:12] Yes, there are all sorts of people all over the internet that will tell you that you need to speak from day one, but I just want to say two things about that kind of strategy.

[00:08:24] Firstly, a lot of these courses that will push you into speaking from day one, a lot of them will be actually aimed at English native speakers who are learning a second language to what's called 'holiday standard', right? 

[00:08:39] Being able to have some basic conversations and impress friends and family, and there's nothing wrong with this.

[00:08:46] Indeed. It's an admirable thing that English speakers are pulling their finger out and actually trying to learn another language, but most are not getting to the kind of level that I'm sure you want to be getting to in English. 

[00:09:00] And secondly, there's actually a lot of academic research that shows that a period of listening before actually trying to start to speak is hugely valuable.

[00:09:12] So one of my personal heroes is a guy called Professor Stephen Krashen, and you can just Google him if you're interested, I'm also put some links in the show notes, but a lot of his work suggests that you should actually focus on listening before trying to speak, and students who start their language learning process with a period of listening as opposed to just dashing straight into speaking actually end up speaking better. 

[00:09:46] One of the reasons for this is that speaking right from the beginning can be a very stressful exercise and that language is acquired more easily in low stress situations. I guess you might remember when you first started learning English, speaking in class could be pretty stressful, right?

[00:10:07] And there's a lot of evidence that speaking from the start and being in a stressful environment actually inhibits, it slows down, the speed at which you learn. 

[00:10:19] That's not the only reason to prioritise listening though.

[00:10:22] Another reason is that it's only by listening to native speakers that you will be actually able to understand how native speakers really speak. 

[00:10:32] If you listen to things like this podcast and you're listening to native speakers, then you have direct access to how native speakers construct sentences, pronounce words, and use language in a real way.

[00:10:46] If you just try speaking from day one without first listening or really understanding how native speakers use the language, then you'll probably just use very similar structures to your mother tongue and just translate as you speak. 

[00:11:02] And this is bad. This is really, really bad. 

[00:11:06] Yes, you will probably get more confident at speaking.

[00:11:10] You'll be able to speak faster, and it might appear to you that you're getting more fluent in the sense of words coming out of your mouth more quickly. 

[00:11:19] But if you're not listening critically to how native speakers really speak, and if you're just memorising more words so you can speak more quickly while always just translating from your native tongue, it will be painfully obvious to any English native speaker and you'll continue to make mistake after mistake in your English.

[00:11:42] I'm sure you are all familiar with this kind of English speaker, the kind that speaks really fast, but probably makes loads of mistakes on the way and has poor pronunciation. 

[00:11:55] Don't be like this person. 

[00:11:58] Instead, when you are listening, listen critically, right? 

[00:12:01] If a native speaker uses a particular word, phrase, or structure, ask yourself why they've used it.

[00:12:08] Is it the same as what you would have used? 

[00:12:12] Note it down, remember it, and then try and use it yourself. 

[00:12:15] The key here is to be an active, a critical listener. And so to bring it back to babies, babies, as I said, do a huge amount of listening and they listen before they speak. 

[00:12:27] Of course, this isn't a nuanced, conscious decision. 

[00:12:32] Babies can't speak, so they have to listen first, but we can still follow their example on this. 

[00:12:38] And a final point on listening is to make sure you're listening to actual native speakers, not people who have learned English to a certain degree and who are probably still making mistakes and not pronouncing things in the right way. And, and you'll end up learning from people who have learned themselves and who are inevitably going to make some mistakes.

[00:13:01] So make sure you're listening to native speakers. 

[00:13:03] Number four of the special things that babies do when learning languages is that babies are not afraid to make mistakes. 

[00:13:13] Yeah. Babies have the advantage of being frequently corrected when they make a linguistic mistake, and native speakers might not always correct you if you make a mistake, I'm assuming you're not a baby, but babies couldn't care less when they make a mistake. Right. They just don't care.

[00:13:31] When they make a mistake, they are either corrected by an adult or they hear an adult saying something in a different way and they know that they've made a mistake. 

[00:13:42] So next time or the time after that, or the time after that, they don't make that mistake again. 

[00:13:50] As adult language learners, we are often so self-conscious of making mistakes, but we shouldn't be. Right? 

[00:13:57] There's nothing wrong with making a mistake. Mistakes are how you learn. 

[00:14:02] So as long as you know that you've made a mistake and you make a conscious effort to not make it next time, that's the important thing.

[00:14:10] And our fifth and final example from the life of babies and how they learn languages is that babies are always trying out new things. 

[00:14:22] As an adult language learner, it's easy to retreat into the same comfortable language that we know.

[00:14:28] To use a simple word rather than something more colourful, to always say good instead of excellent, fantastic, marvelous. 

[00:14:38] To be the person who just responds to a question as opposed to asking questions or engaging with the subject matter. 

[00:14:47] But babies and children don't do this.

[00:14:51] They are always trying out new words and phrases.

[00:14:56] Yes, they make mistakes as we talked about in the previous point, but that's the only way that they learn.

[00:15:02] One of the easiest ways in which you can assess the level of English of a non-native speaker is through the kind of vocabulary that they use. So simple doesn't always mean bad, and on occasion, simple is fine and gets the job done and is actually a better way of communicating.

[00:15:25] But if you're striving for fluency, you know that simple isn't always good enough, right? 

[00:15:33] You know that you should say something like, well, striving for fluency instead of trying to be very good. 

[00:15:41] It always puts a smile on my face whenever I come across a child who uses complicated vocabulary, who says a strange, uncommon word, and I always think that this is a enviable quality of children that many adults just lose after a certain amount of time, the quality of just constantly testing out new words and phrases and taking a huge amount of pride and rejoicing when they find an interesting new word. 

[00:16:14] So to conclude, what can we learn about how to learn English from babies and children? It turns out a lot more than one might have originally thought.

[00:16:27] Obviously there are loads of things that babies do that you shouldn't try to emulate as a language learner, but on balance, I think if we all try to be a little bit more like a baby, then I think a lot of us would find ourselves learning just that little bit faster. 

[00:16:45] Right that is it for today. I normally do the thing where I ask or beg or, um, hope that you will give some kind of review or rating to the show.

[00:16:57] And today I'm not gonna do that or I'm not going to do it any more than I've just done. 

[00:17:02] But what I want to do today is ask you a question. So what I would like to know from you is, what do you like about the show? 

[00:17:12] What do you not like and what could we be doing differently? 

[00:17:15] I want your feedback. I want you to tell me what we should be doing and as an extra little bonus incentive for doing so, if you send in the feedback, then I will correct the feedback if there are any mistakes, of course, and send it straight back to you. 

[00:17:32] So you can think about it as a free bit of English writing practice, with me. So what you need to do is just send an email to hi@leonardoenglish.com hi, that's hi@leonardoenglish.com with feedback in the subject line.

[00:17:52] I'm already excited to see what you have to say. 

[00:17:54] Okay. You have been listening to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. I'm Alastair Budge and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[00:00:02] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:10] I'm Alastair Budge. 

[00:00:12] Firstly, Happy New Year. 

[00:00:15] I hope you had an excellent New Year's Eve and that the New Year and the new decade is off to a great start. 

[00:00:25] If you're wondering why we celebrate January the first as New Year and thinking, well, I wish someone would make a fun 10 minute podcast about that, then you probably missed episode 13, the one that came out on New Year's Eve, so that's one to listen to after this. It tells you literally everything about it. 

[00:00:47] It's also time for your customary reminder that if you don't have them already, you can grab a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for the podcast over on the website, which is Leonardoenglish.com 

[00:01:02] Okay, so today we are going to be talking about a subject that's pretty close to my heart.

[00:01:09] Or actually two subjects that are close to my heart. 

[00:01:13] Language learning and babies.

[00:01:15] Language learning because, well, I'm a bit of a language learning geek and I'm fascinated with languages and how people learn them. 

[00:01:27] And babies because a few months ago I became a dad for the first time. So looking after a baby has quickly become quite a feature in my life. 

[00:01:37] So today it's babies and languages.

[00:01:41] We'll discuss why babies are the ultimate language learners and talk about what we can learn from babies about how to learn English more effectively. 

[00:01:51] Babies might not seem like the obvious examples of how to be a good language learner.

[00:01:57] They can't really speak any languages well. 

[00:02:01] They make a load of mistakes, even if they can speak. 

[00:02:04] They don't really ever appear to study. I mean, they don't study. 

[00:02:08] And they don't keep vocabulary books. They never make any notes and they are very easily distracted. 

[00:02:14] So on the face of it, babies don't really have any of the main characteristics that you might traditionally associate with good language learners and good language students. 

[00:02:27] But we can actually learn a huge amount from babies and their results are normally pretty incredible despite all of the deficiencies we've just mentioned.

[00:02:39] So most babies by the age of five or so, they can speak and understand at least one language with some speaking, two or more. 

[00:02:49] I'll have to update you in a few years on the progress of my little baby as he's currently being brought up trilingualy, so three languages. 

[00:02:56] So I speak English to him. His mother speaks Italian to him, and at nursery he'll speak Maltese.

[00:03:03] So most babies can understand and speak at least one language.

[00:03:08] And babies, even if they move to a different country where they speak a different language, the babies normally pick up the language faster than the parents. 

[00:03:17] So babies are pretty good at learning languages. 

[00:03:20] But why is this? 

[00:03:22] Yes, there are all sorts of advantages that babies have.

[00:03:26] Their little brains are like sponges and purely from a neurological point of view, it is easier to take on new information and learn a new language when you are one or two years old rather than 21, 51 or 91. 

[00:03:43] But this shouldn't mean that we adults throw our hands up in the air and admit defeat saying that our old brains just can't absorb new information at the same rate as babies’ brains can.

[00:03:56] Instead, let's look at five of the ways in which we can try to be more like babies to be better language learners. 

[00:04:05] So firstly, babies are naturally curious. 

[00:04:09] For a baby, everything is new. They know nothing. So in order to learn, they have to be curious. They have to ask what something is called. They have to ask or point if they don't understand a word, they're constantly in discovery mode. 

[00:04:28] Just take a look at the next baby you come across when they're awake, of course, their eyes are constantly looking around. 

[00:04:36] They're interested in everything from the wall to the wardrobe, from the fan to a small spoon. 

[00:04:43] They just want to understand the world. 

[00:04:46] As a curious language learner, you should also be constantly trying to learn new words and phrases. 

[00:04:55] You should be asking if you don't understand something, and you should always hunt out new and interesting material to learn from, to look at every single situation as a learning experience. 

[00:05:08] And like a baby, you should be constantly exploring, constantly discovering new words and phrases, and you shouldn't retreat into what you know, but instead reach out into the mysterious yet magical world of what you don't know. 

[00:05:24] So you should be as curious as a baby. 

[00:05:27] So the natural curiosity that babies have is something that's anenviable quality, and I think as adult language learners, we should all try to be a little bit more like babies in that respect. 

[00:05:40] Secondly, babies learn language through acquisition. So multiple studies have shown that the most effective way to learn a language, to be able to speak a language, is through what's called acquisition, not through traditional language learning. 

[00:06:00] So to translate this into plain English, this means that you should improve your English through actually using English, through listening, reading, and consuming content in the target language, in English.

[00:06:16] Doing stuff like listening to this podcast as opposed to listening to boring traditional listening exercises that are nothing like what you would encounter in the real world, or you should be doing stuff like reading original content rather than justporing over vocabulary or grammar books, which will not only be monotonous, and I dare say, quite boring for you, but a lot of studies have shown that they're actually significantly less effective than many teachers and language schools might have you believe

[00:06:52] Babies learn in context, right? 

[00:06:57] So they see a frog and they hear the word frog and they know what it's called. 

[00:07:03] They don't study books with the names of all the animals in.

[00:07:06] Or if they do, they are reading a story about a frog, right? They are learning about the names of animals through a story that tells the name of different animals. 

[00:07:15] So they learn language through acquiring it, through using it in a natural way. 

[00:07:20] Thirdly, babies listen.

[00:07:24] Everyone listens to a certain extent when they learn a language. But nobody listens quite like a baby.

[00:07:31] In fact, babies spend the first six months or so of their lives, mainly just listening. 

[00:07:40] Yes, those first months are full of all sorts of marvelous other learning experiences other than learning language, but babies are constantly in listening mode. 

[00:07:51] From a language learning point of view, they can't really do anything else other than the occasional 'guh' or 'buh' or strange baby sounds.

[00:08:01] One big mistake that many language learners make when they start learning a language is to start speaking right from day one. 

[00:08:12] Yes, there are all sorts of people all over the internet that will tell you that you need to speak from day one, but I just want to say two things about that kind of strategy.

[00:08:24] Firstly, a lot of these courses that will push you into speaking from day one, a lot of them will be actually aimed at English native speakers who are learning a second language to what's called 'holiday standard', right? 

[00:08:39] Being able to have some basic conversations and impress friends and family, and there's nothing wrong with this.

[00:08:46] Indeed. It's an admirable thing that English speakers are pulling their finger out and actually trying to learn another language, but most are not getting to the kind of level that I'm sure you want to be getting to in English. 

[00:09:00] And secondly, there's actually a lot of academic research that shows that a period of listening before actually trying to start to speak is hugely valuable.

[00:09:12] So one of my personal heroes is a guy called Professor Stephen Krashen, and you can just Google him if you're interested, I'm also put some links in the show notes, but a lot of his work suggests that you should actually focus on listening before trying to speak, and students who start their language learning process with a period of listening as opposed to just dashing straight into speaking actually end up speaking better. 

[00:09:46] One of the reasons for this is that speaking right from the beginning can be a very stressful exercise and that language is acquired more easily in low stress situations. I guess you might remember when you first started learning English, speaking in class could be pretty stressful, right?

[00:10:07] And there's a lot of evidence that speaking from the start and being in a stressful environment actually inhibits, it slows down, the speed at which you learn. 

[00:10:19] That's not the only reason to prioritise listening though.

[00:10:22] Another reason is that it's only by listening to native speakers that you will be actually able to understand how native speakers really speak. 

[00:10:32] If you listen to things like this podcast and you're listening to native speakers, then you have direct access to how native speakers construct sentences, pronounce words, and use language in a real way.

[00:10:46] If you just try speaking from day one without first listening or really understanding how native speakers use the language, then you'll probably just use very similar structures to your mother tongue and just translate as you speak. 

[00:11:02] And this is bad. This is really, really bad. 

[00:11:06] Yes, you will probably get more confident at speaking.

[00:11:10] You'll be able to speak faster, and it might appear to you that you're getting more fluent in the sense of words coming out of your mouth more quickly. 

[00:11:19] But if you're not listening critically to how native speakers really speak, and if you're just memorising more words so you can speak more quickly while always just translating from your native tongue, it will be painfully obvious to any English native speaker and you'll continue to make mistake after mistake in your English.

[00:11:42] I'm sure you are all familiar with this kind of English speaker, the kind that speaks really fast, but probably makes loads of mistakes on the way and has poor pronunciation. 

[00:11:55] Don't be like this person. 

[00:11:58] Instead, when you are listening, listen critically, right? 

[00:12:01] If a native speaker uses a particular word, phrase, or structure, ask yourself why they've used it.

[00:12:08] Is it the same as what you would have used? 

[00:12:12] Note it down, remember it, and then try and use it yourself. 

[00:12:15] The key here is to be an active, a critical listener. And so to bring it back to babies, babies, as I said, do a huge amount of listening and they listen before they speak. 

[00:12:27] Of course, this isn't a nuanced, conscious decision. 

[00:12:32] Babies can't speak, so they have to listen first, but we can still follow their example on this. 

[00:12:38] And a final point on listening is to make sure you're listening to actual native speakers, not people who have learned English to a certain degree and who are probably still making mistakes and not pronouncing things in the right way. And, and you'll end up learning from people who have learned themselves and who are inevitably going to make some mistakes.

[00:13:01] So make sure you're listening to native speakers. 

[00:13:03] Number four of the special things that babies do when learning languages is that babies are not afraid to make mistakes. 

[00:13:13] Yeah. Babies have the advantage of being frequently corrected when they make a linguistic mistake, and native speakers might not always correct you if you make a mistake, I'm assuming you're not a baby, but babies couldn't care less when they make a mistake. Right. They just don't care.

[00:13:31] When they make a mistake, they are either corrected by an adult or they hear an adult saying something in a different way and they know that they've made a mistake. 

[00:13:42] So next time or the time after that, or the time after that, they don't make that mistake again. 

[00:13:50] As adult language learners, we are often so self-conscious of making mistakes, but we shouldn't be. Right? 

[00:13:57] There's nothing wrong with making a mistake. Mistakes are how you learn. 

[00:14:02] So as long as you know that you've made a mistake and you make a conscious effort to not make it next time, that's the important thing.

[00:14:10] And our fifth and final example from the life of babies and how they learn languages is that babies are always trying out new things. 

[00:14:22] As an adult language learner, it's easy to retreat into the same comfortable language that we know.

[00:14:28] To use a simple word rather than something more colourful, to always say good instead of excellent, fantastic, marvelous. 

[00:14:38] To be the person who just responds to a question as opposed to asking questions or engaging with the subject matter. 

[00:14:47] But babies and children don't do this.

[00:14:51] They are always trying out new words and phrases.

[00:14:56] Yes, they make mistakes as we talked about in the previous point, but that's the only way that they learn.

[00:15:02] One of the easiest ways in which you can assess the level of English of a non-native speaker is through the kind of vocabulary that they use. So simple doesn't always mean bad, and on occasion, simple is fine and gets the job done and is actually a better way of communicating.

[00:15:25] But if you're striving for fluency, you know that simple isn't always good enough, right? 

[00:15:33] You know that you should say something like, well, striving for fluency instead of trying to be very good. 

[00:15:41] It always puts a smile on my face whenever I come across a child who uses complicated vocabulary, who says a strange, uncommon word, and I always think that this is a enviable quality of children that many adults just lose after a certain amount of time, the quality of just constantly testing out new words and phrases and taking a huge amount of pride and rejoicing when they find an interesting new word. 

[00:16:14] So to conclude, what can we learn about how to learn English from babies and children? It turns out a lot more than one might have originally thought.

[00:16:27] Obviously there are loads of things that babies do that you shouldn't try to emulate as a language learner, but on balance, I think if we all try to be a little bit more like a baby, then I think a lot of us would find ourselves learning just that little bit faster. 

[00:16:45] Right that is it for today. I normally do the thing where I ask or beg or, um, hope that you will give some kind of review or rating to the show.

[00:16:57] And today I'm not gonna do that or I'm not going to do it any more than I've just done. 

[00:17:02] But what I want to do today is ask you a question. So what I would like to know from you is, what do you like about the show? 

[00:17:12] What do you not like and what could we be doing differently? 

[00:17:15] I want your feedback. I want you to tell me what we should be doing and as an extra little bonus incentive for doing so, if you send in the feedback, then I will correct the feedback if there are any mistakes, of course, and send it straight back to you. 

[00:17:32] So you can think about it as a free bit of English writing practice, with me. So what you need to do is just send an email to hi@leonardoenglish.com hi, that's hi@leonardoenglish.com with feedback in the subject line.

[00:17:52] I'm already excited to see what you have to say. 

[00:17:54] Okay. You have been listening to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. I'm Alastair Budge and I'll catch you in the next episode.