No language-learning program knows what it’s talking about when they say they can show you how to learn a language like a baby. There’s no other way.
My kids revealed the secrets of language-learning to me. I was teaching them Russian with they were between 4 and 7 years old. I spoke with them and they went to a Russian class for an hour per week.
I knew the difficulties of learning Russian, but I was fluent by that point, even having worked as an interpreter and translator. I had figured out the tricky parts of the grammar, but my kids’ grammar was hopeless. I didn’t know what to do.
I told their teacher that the kids always messed up verb conjugations and noun declensions, so that all verbs were second person and all feminine nouns were in the accusative. He smiled and said, “Yeah, kids always mess those up.”
I always messed those up, too!
Now I understood! Russian grammar was not just difficult for English speakers. It was objectively difficult if native speaking kids struggled with the same things I did when I was in class.
Once I could put away the idea that the kids could “naturally” figure out the beast of Russian grammar, I saw one main difference remain between me learning Russian and the children of the Russian teacher learning the same language: quantity of input. If I wanted input, I had to gently approach a Russian speaker when I could find one around. If the Russian teacher’s children wanted input, they just yelled; someone would come running to talk to them in Russian to find out what the matter was.
Moreover, if someone doesn’t understand me I have to rephrase sheepishly what I wanted to say, checking and re-checking my grammar in my head. If the kids’ parents don’t understand them, they scream and make it the parents’ problem to figure it out.
Plus kids are just so darn cute. I’m not so bad, but kids are great to spend time with. People delight in inane conversations with babies. “It’s a ball! See the ball? Watch the ball! Now catch the ball! Good job! You caught the ball!” Adults get so excited, you see, and they happily dumb down the conversation to the child’s level. Biologically, our brains are wired so that we get a good feeling taking care of these little adorable bundles of joy.
No one is invested in teaching me languages. It’s all on me.
Are you having trouble with your language? I don’t think you’re the problem. I think that languages can be hard, and you just stumbled into it. French kids mess up noun genders, Spanish kids mess up verb conjugations. I’ve heard kids in multiple languages who can’t roll their “r”. These are all typical mistakes for adult language-learners, as well.
You’re learning like a child, only—I hate to tell you—you’re not as cute. You have to fight embarrassing yourself and interrupting others to get input and to get people to try to listen to your basic language. No one is impressed when you say, “Want milk!” But they love it when babies say it. People “oo” and “ah” when a baby says the simplest thing—and try to get him to say another. They don’t correct grammar; they just smile and keep talking.