What similarities are there between the way that infants acquire their first language
and the way that adults acquire a second or foreign language? [...]
To give an adequate answer, we should start by considering some characteristics
of our adult minds and the minds of infants. First, what do we have in common? We all
5 – have ears and auditory memory and we are all able to imitate sounds. We make
connections in our brains between words and the persons, things, situations and actions
around us. Subconsciously, we find and develop a theoretical map of the structure of
But a little more thought reveals that the situation of a baby is quite different
10 – from ours as adults. First of all, for a baby, the parents are the principal language
teachers, while older children and adults can learn a language by themselves, or from
any other teacher. You will not learn English from another adult as you learned your
language as a baby because your teacher is not your mother, and you are not a baby
anymore. Babies are learning about the whole world around them at the same time
15 – they are absorbing language, while older children and adults can take advantage of
their rational minds and many diverse situations and experiences during the process
of learning a language. Babies do not have another mother tongue in their minds that
can interfere with the language being studied. What’s more, babies talk about a different
set of experiences, which is a very limited set of things. It usually takes two years or
20 – more before a baby starts making sense.
Babies hear language for more than a year before forming their first words, and
their ability to enunciate words grows very gradually. But adults can start speaking in
a matter of days under the right circumstances. What’s more, in adults there are many
variables, such as motivation, attitude about the language and its culture, which are
25 – not present in babies. There are even many differences in our abilities as we grow up:
younger children, older children and adults of all ages experience many different levels
of ability and accomplishment.
Students often feel frustrated with English lessons and teaching materials that
seem to take all the fun out of learning the language, which should be a perfectly
30 – natural and pleasant process. Natural language learning in adults is one thing, but it is
absurd to make the leap to saying that it is anything like the way babies learn their first
language. With all the differences between the mental processes of learning a first
and a second language, you should be wary of teachers and books that promise you
will learn as easily as a baby, because, even if it were true, that could actually complicate
35 – the process for you!
DIMATTEO, Christopher. Baby talk. Speak up, São Paulo: Peixes, ano XV, n. 188, p. 39, s/d. Adaptado.
Analyze the uses of “that” in these sentences and indicate their grammatical functions.
a) “But a little more thought reveals that the situation of a baby is quite different […]” (l. 9)
b) “Students often feel frustrated with English lessons and teaching materials that seem to take all the fun out of learning the language […]” (l. 28-9)
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