When Language Schools convinced me, I'm old & dumb...

Back in school... because of my poor speaking ability in German or English...

I used to believe 3 things about myself:

1. I had zero talent to learn languages. I mean a son of language teacher can’t speak German (nor English) after years of formal study. Enough said.

2. The second reason I thought I was so bad was because you have to be really young to learn languages. Like a baby. But, at the time of re-reading Krashen's research... Yes, I had behind me my teenage failures with German & English and current struggle with French, but I also had 2 extreme successes with Italian & Spanish in 3 months. 

And I managed to learn them in my late twenties. This, and also seeing other adults “picking up” languages showed me that it can’t be the age issue...

So, of course...

3. The third thing I used to believe is that... just as Oscar Wilde said “life is too short to learn German.” But again, I thought how come I learned Spanish and Italian in only few months. And yes, I believed a German to be a bit harder, but that much!? And OK, maybe French takes longer too. But English? Why was I so bad with English in high school too... English doesn’t seem like a difficult language.

It wasn’t until I read Krashen’s findings about 2 different systems of learning in human brains.


The Difference between Learning (school's approach of memorisations) and the Acquisition:

His research showed, that the real language learning is actually not learning at all, but acquisition.

Acquiring the language through repetitions in context, but... from input (listening), not output (speaking)...

And the input which is also spaced out...

Krashen pointed out that kids from 0-5 years old do things in completely contrary way to the 99% of what people do when studying foreign languages.

They don’t study any grammar rules, or do some tedious grammar drills, in fact, most of them can’t even explain one single rule. What they do is… they listen mainly and recognise patterns.

The kids learn because they hear same words, structures and sentences in context, repeated... Over and over.

It works something like this:

Let’s take “let’s” as an example. F.e. on Monday someone says “let’s go play,” then on Tuesday “let’s eat,” on Friday someone says “let’s go outside.”

And further spaced out like that.

It has been proven by research that by the time a kid has heard 40-50 repetitions of input from outside world... these new words sink into his/her deep memory.

Basically, they listen and copy the superior speakers, the adults. 

And often...

It is obvious to us that when a child utters an F%$^ word that it has acquired it through heard repetitions.

Not learned from some dictionary or grammar book.

But what isn't obvious to us... or what is the big illusion that the rest of the language was "studied."

The child in the following clip hasn't acquired only the F$%^ word. It has acquired everything it says there.

It is so convinced because she heard that pattern before :)

Simply put...


  • The kids don’t repeat to themselves let’s, let’s, let’s, 1000x in a row (AKA practicing speech)
  • It also doesn’t write let’s, let’s, let’s, 1000x on paper
  • It also doesn’t look up the dictionary definition of: “let’s”
  • No tedious grammar drills, tests, or watching grammar instructions on youtube about “let’s”
  • No words in lists of categories to learn/memorise
  • No duolingo, babbel, rosetta stone or even flashcards
  • And also, caretakers are not forcing them to speak...

The child also might not get the word/expression right the first few times. It might butcher it and say something like: “lazz pluuy utsid,” but the caretakers don’t say wrong, wrong, wrong as instructors often do in foreign lang. classes... discouraging the students.

In fact, caretakers encourage the child, with “yeaaah, let’s play.” Until with more reps of input, child realises correct way and starts saying “let’s play outside.”

As Krashen explains the child isn’t even doing errors, it is speaking in predictable transitional language!

All of this accumulates to kid’s fluency.

And everyone thinks it’s magic.

But is it?

It was the result of the acquisition, hearing spaced out repetitions of words/structures in contexts.

But here’s the problem, we don’t know exactly which rep of “let’s” has sinked it into the deep memory.

Was it the 43rd or 52nd?

And that’s the acquisition’s problem - where once a word is acquired, we have a feeling it’s always been in the brain, we are not even aware we acquired it. 

With memorisations it feels like learning, because new material is always entering our surface memory, kinda like a FB feed of a language, but the material from a week ago is already long forgotten...

...and that’s why it’s just a constant illusion of learning...

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