The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

There goes another myth: Children aren’t “sponges”

Posted on October 10, 2008 by

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It’s not just the free-market myth that’s crumbling these days: Anne Sodermann, Michigan State University professor emeritus of Family and Child, spent some hundred hours in a bilingual Mandarin-English Kindergarten in Bejing. In a recent study (Powerpoint-presentation here), watching 3 to 6 year old children from 16 nationalities, she came to a surprising conclusion: “There’s a wide-held perception that if children are very young, learning(another) language is extremely easy for them – that they are like sponges – and that is just not true. Their motivations for doing so are very different from those of older children or adults,” says Sodermann.

Children who withdraw or “act out” might do so precisely because of the language barrier – they just can’t understand their peers. Sodermann made another observation: “In early childhood, we know from previous research that girls are more verbal and more social than boys, generally speaking, but what we found in this study is that girls had a tougher time with social adjustment in the classroom”.

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Comments

Just arrived via LanguageHat and looking forward to the promising new venture you’ve got here!

I’m an enormous fan of myth-busting, especially when it involves Mandarin and, even better, when it involves second language acquisition. But I’m a little confused in this case.

Does Soderman’s research show that language-learning difficulties manifest themselves in unexpected ways? That would be interesting, but after the “not sponges” quote you have her talking about different motivations. And then the last quote talks about differences between boys and girls. All non sequiturs as far as the headline is concerned.

The powerpoint is laconic, the paper is $28 — it would be nice to get a little more of a walk thru the arguments!

@syz: You’re right. We’ll try to do an interview with Sodermann in the near future and ask her for a “walk through”. My guess is that small children learn a second language because they have to – like a kind of survival skill.

[...] There goes another myth: Children aren’t “sponges” BABBEL BLOG–It’s not just the free-market myth that’s crumbling these days: Anne Sodermann, Michigan State University professor emeritus of Family and Child, spent some hundred hours in a bilingual Mandarin-English Kindergarten in Bejing. In a recent study (Powerpoint-presentation here), watching 3 to 6 year old children from 16 nationalities, she came to full story [...]

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