It is widely considered that children are more proficient in the matters of language acquisition, as compared to adults. In this regard, a range of theories exists, attempting to explain the aforementioned tendency. Among the five leading hypotheses, none of them manage to provide a comprehensive answer to the central question. However, some of them provide more facts that shed light on the subject matter. The “less is more” hypothesis is one of them, as it relies on the physical properties of the brain. Children focus on smaller linguistic units, being able to memorize more language structures without expanding them to broader contexts and compensating for the blanks later. Another interesting fact is provided by the Acquisition-Learning theory that views these concepts as separate processes (Lowen. 2021). This explains that children do not learn but acquire a language through a more prominent role of the subconsciousness. In turn, adults rely on learning, which is a more consuming activity that, however, produces more accurate language expertise.
At the same time, some adult learners still attain exceptional results in their second language studies. Thus, certain hypotheses may be applied to such a scenario comparing adults with other adults rather than children. In this case, the Acquisition-Learning hypothesis also seems to provide more answers. Specifically, its principle of process separation extends beyond child learners. Proficient adults equally acquire their language skills through a more immersive experience. Some of them do so by entering an environment in which the target language is dominant, others engage in more target-language activities through different media. They are able to activate their subconsciousness to acquire the language, which resembles the process undergone by native speakers (Loewen, 2021). Interestingly, acquisition-versus-learning may account for the difference in common mistakes made by speakers. In the case of English, the confusion of “you’re” and “your” is more prevalent among those who acquired the language, whereas learners master basic grammar but struggle with more complex ideas of lexis and stylistics.
Loewen, S. (2021). Was Krashen right? An instructed second language acquisition perspective. Foreign Language Annals, 45(7), 103–108.