Food for Thoughts: We Acquire Languages Differently

Over the last couple of months, I have been struck by the difference in my daughters’ different language acquisition abilities.

Though my eldest has been exposed longer to our minority language (ml) than her little sister owing to their age gap, it always strikes me with what great ease my youngest expresses herself in English.  She almost always picks up new vocabulary on the first or second time round.

This observation has led me to reflect on the reasons behind this difference between the 2 of them.  As far as I could think, I came up with these 4 reasons:

  1. The child’s natural abilities – Some children have an excellent memory, a better attention span, more observation skills.  All these greatly contribute to them learning quickly, almost effortlessly.  For those who do not have these skills, picking up a language can be more challenging.
  2. The child’s personality – A child who is a scatterbrain and who is not curious will not pick up as much as an attentive peer who is eager to learn.  In addition, if that peer is outgoing and has opportunities to use the ml, they will have plenty of opportunities to use that newly acquired knowledge, hence setting it into their mind.
  3. The kind of exposure to the Majority Language (ML) the child receives-  As they grow older, they will be bombarded all day long with very ML school and academic vocabulary.  If your child is schooled in the ML, it is hence very difficult for them to know, transpose or guess the ml translation.  A long day in the ML can also be brain numbing for a child in primary or secondary school, spending their day learning challenging concepts.
  4. The bond with the ml – a strong bond with the ml will contribute to a better mastery  of the ml.  I notice it in my youngest who has always had a stronger bond with English and masters it incredibly whereas her Spanish is slightly weaker (though thanks to the pandemic and my husband working from home it has strengthened).

I hope this post may help those of you who, like me, sometimes lose patience with their child, to realise that our kids are different from their sibling(s) and other bilingual peers.  Let us take the time to observe our children and identify their personality and learning features to better understand them.   This certainly helps me in remembering to be more patient with my eldest as her language acquisition skills simply go at a slower pace.  As the Spanish saying goes “Cada niño es un mundo” (each child is a world of their own). 😉

Should I have missed some other reasons, do feel free to point these out in the comment box to enrich these reflections. 🙂

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