Can adults learn languages the way children do?
The situation of the adult is quite different from that of the child. The child has no native language to compare to or refer to. The adult does. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage for the adult. The adult knows many words in his or her own language, which can help in discovering the words of a new language. However, the patterns and sounds of the adult’s native-language interfere with the acquisition of a new language.
The child is not deliberately learning the language, whereas the adult is. The child is just responding to stimulus or eventually trying to communicate, but is not consciously learning.
The child is not intimidated nor self-conscious about how he or she sounds in the new language.
So, do you feel that adults and children learn differently?
Despite the many differences in their situations, I think the more adults can learn like children, while still taking advantage of their own skills, such as reading and general knowledge, the better they will do. I believe adults should strive to learn more naturally and less deliberately.
Adults should also learn not to worry about how they sound, and whatever mistakes they make, when speaking the language.
Both adults and children have to acquire the language from outside, through lots of listening and, in the case of adults, reading. As in the case of babies, speaking can be delayed.
However, don’t babies try to speak right from the beginning?
I don’t think so. Initially they listen, starting in the womb. Then at some point they start making sounds, experimenting, in the same way as they move their limbs about. Then they focus on a few words that are important to them, for what ever reason. This is all quite different from adult-like communication. I doubt that adults need to imitate this form of behaviour.
I think the main thing that adults can learn from children, is to be less deliberate and more natural, and to let the language learning process take its course. This, of course, is easier said than done.