I remember in my grade eight English class how my teacher, Mr. Phillips, said that English is the hardest language in the world to learn and master. After years of post secondary education, studying Philosophy, Human Development, Language Arts, Child Psychology and Biology, for an anglophone to learn another language is far tougher than the struggling two year old is with English, or the language spoken in the house. I really believe that people like Dr. Steven Pinker got it right when he said that our brains are wired for language, but biology has put it so that we do this very early in our development between the ages two and three becuase communication is so important to us both as individuals and as a society.
For adults to learn another language it a through struggle, well, especially for me anyway. I already learned my mother tongue, English, and I have gotten by with it very well. However, the powers that be, who set the standards for academic studies, have decreed that all students who wish to master in their graduating studies must have a language component in their curriculum to graduate. For me, I have chosen the language of French. So the question of having being a uni-linguist for more than thirty years will no doubt have an impact on my ability to master the French language.
Speaking French, I will always have the anglophone accent in my words, and will probably have the verb and noun mix-ups that make English such a twisted language too. Oh, and then there are the masculine and feminine nouns too which really messes me up. Then there is the reading, writing and listening skills that go along with learning any new language-did I say this was going to be tough already?
I bring up Dr. Seven Pinker into my post because he studied in great length how the mind creates language. Like I said before, the mind is wired from birth to start communicating, so when a child reaches the age of two or three the language has taken shape and the child has copied its parents sounds right to the pronunciation of the dialect. When you really break it down, a two year old starts to form words into sentences that are understood by their parents and others around them. Language is really complex, yet a child can master it a few months. But it takes more effort for an adult to learn an new language than a child. Once the circuity has being formed, the brain has a hard time relearning language, but this does not mean that it is impossible, just requires more energy and time.
For a really good read on language development and child/adult psychology, I recommend, The Language Instinct, How the Mind Creates Language, by Dr. Steven Pinker, 1994.