The conviction that children learn faster than adults is just a convenient superstition, which is a great excuse for not exploring new things.
When I was 25, I learnt to ride a bike (Late? Well, late. My parents taught their children what they knew best, that is physics). After graduating (in physics), I started to catch up. I welcomed my twenty-sixth birthday diving in caves, and twenty-seventh – skiing. Well over thirty, I mastered backwards crossover and sideways braking in hockey skates, as well as shooting with a gun. Before turning forty, I mounted a horse for the first time.
You cannot teach an old dog new tricks? Brain ossifies in time?
We will all ossify, if we become the slaves of prejudice.
There are many indications that the belief that children learn faster and more easily than adults, should be classified as superstition. Its source lays not so much in the observations related to learning, as in the development of the senses, especially sight.
In fact, if an animal is deprived of vision for a long time immediately after birth, its brain will not develop the ability to understand the signals transmitted through the eyes. People born with cataract, which is removed only after several years of age, do not recover vision, as opposed to those who are operated in infancy. The eyes are working, but the brain does not know how to use them.
But this is the only example of this kind. The rest of learning, based on memorizing, improving skills, is open also to us, those in their thirties, forties and fifties.
We do not learn worse. We have worse teachers
Well, OK, but what about languages? After all, “everyone knows” that children learn languages faster than adults. This is not true. The studies of a researcher with a familiarly-sounding name – Bialystok – from the York University in Toronto contradict it. Ellen Bialystok studied over two million Latin-American and Chinese emigrants and did not find any correlation between the degree of mastering a language and the age of abandoning their first homeland. Mrs. Bialystok claims that if children catch on more quickly, it is only because they are better taught! Adults turn to them talking slowly, clearly, more correctly and use simpler words and syntax, and the whole environment is just standing on its head to make itself understood. Children’s mistakes? Followed with delight. Bad pronunciation? Evokes tender emotions. In such conditions, learning is pure pleasure.
How differently than in the case of adults. Incidentally, those who, instead of classes with a teacher, experimentally, listened only to the recordings of mothers “chirping” to their children, began to catch the language immediately and spoke with a great accent.
And above all – kids have nothing else to do but to learn. If you spent all day having conversations and playing games, your results would not have been worse.
Kids try, adults contrive
The main thing in which we primarily differ from kids is that we divide matters into the ones which we have a good grasp of and on the others. Kids do not know anything, so they pitch into every task with equal enthusiasm and without feeling of inferiority. We are fixed by perfectionism and fear of making fools of ourselves. We contrive and plan: how to do it best, how to set the arm while throwing a ball, how to move the leg, we formulate a sentence in a foreign language in our head before we open our mouth.
Learning difficulties, which come with age, result from mental limitations that we impose on ourselves, because, as a matter of fact, there is no indication that, over time, our brains become less plastic than they were in early life. And if it seems that young people learn more easily, it is not associated with a higher efficiency of their brains but… the body. People who maintain good physical condition master new skills more easily. And this does not apply only to motor skills – skiing or playing golf. As the research, Dr. Arthur Kramer, of the University of Illinois has shown, regular gymnastic exercises cause… the growth of the hippocampus – the area of the brain responsible for memorizing.
And since we are less and less willing to move with age, our hippocampus is shrinking. And physical laziness results in the laziness of mind. Therefore, if you want to learn something new quickly, start from riding a bike, roller-skating or some exotic sport, unknown to you.