I study a fair few languages. Some days, I'll spend a morning on Chinese grammar and get lots done, then I'll swap to Korean and spend the entire afternoon on one grammar point and hours later, still be no better off than when I began. What is the reason for this? Well, according to Amy Finn, a postdoc at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, the reason for this is also related to why adults find it harder to learn languages than children. Children have a “sensitive period” for learning language that lasts until puberty, and during these years, certain parts of the brain are more developed than others. For example, they are adept at procedural memory than adults. It’s involved in tasks we learn unconsciously such as riding a bike, dancing, or subtle language rules. It’s a system that learns from observing and from experience; neural circuits in the brain build a set of rules for constructing words and sentences by absorbing and analyzing information—like sounds—from the world around them. Basically, as adults, we may over-analyze new language rules or sounds and try to make them fit into some understandable and coherent pattern that makes sense to them. However, a new language may involve grammar rules that aren’t so easily explained (like the ones I spend hours looking at), and adults have more difficulty overcoming those obstacles than children, who simply absorb the rules or exceptions and learn from them. That’s especially true with pronunciation, since the way we make sounds is something that is established early in life, and becomes second nature. Finn also goes on to say that as an adult you can learn a language but you will never be fluent - which is where we start to disagree! Challenge accepted!