Like many people, I have been able to speak since I was perhaps 4 months old. But, I was unable to speak in complete sentences and much of my "speech" was still babbling, but as speech-language pathologist Sherry Artemenko says:
"Babbling is an important milestone because it represents the beginning of real communication, when a baby starts experimenting with sounds, listening for a reaction, responding, and building social relationships."
According to my mother, I was able to speak at about 12 months old, which was 6 months early when compared to what is average. That is I could say perhaps 10 simple words. My mother could point to a familiar object and I could say the word that described that article. I was obviously only repeating the words that I had heard her say.
As my cognitive development progressed, I was able to memorizes and repeats more sounds, taking the time to think about what I wanted to "say," and learning how to use verbal and nonverbal actions to express my wants and needs. Obviously, there was the social component, too. Long before I ever said a word, I learned the rules of language and socialization by watching how my mother reacted to my sounds and I begin to learn conversation skills with partners as we took turns speaking to one another. This was possible at the time, because babies are hardwired to learn language and are affected by how others engage verbally with them.
By the time I was 18-months old, I was able to form short sentences. And, the length of the sentences increased as my need to use to words to describe what I saw, heard, felt, thought and wanted. I was able to tap into the power of communicating my needs through words and thus the importance of language was tantamount in my life at that time of my life.
While I had been traveling to Mexico at a very early age, I was with my parents and had no need to speak Spanish, but by the time I was forty, I realized that I wanted to live in Mexico and began to think that I needed to learn the language. However, I was not actively trying to learn to speak Spanish. Everywhere I went there was also someone who was bilingual and could translate for me. And, like I did as a child, I could simply point at the item I wanted and it would magically appear before me, without having to speak one word of Spanish.
Now, at seventy, I live full time in Mexico, and I still do not speak Spanish fluently. The schools here require English as a second language, and most children know more English than I do of Spanish. As well, most of the people that I deal with in my consulting practice are well educated and speak English quite well. In fact, most speak English better than I. I have never really had to struggle to try to make my brain learn Spanish.
Today, I watch a video made by Destin Sandlin1, in which he had to learn to ride a bicycle that was designed by the welders at his job. It was comically named the "Backwards Brain Bicycle" because when you turned the handlebars to the left, the front wheel turned to the right. It took Destin 8 months to learn how to ride the bike, but as he explained:
"I was only picking up the bike and running to the end of the driveway and back every day. I wasn't "ACTIVELY" trying to learn. Meaning... I wasn't struggling and trying to make my brain learn. I simply got on the bike every day, tried to operate it to the end of the driveway, turned around and tried to operate it back. The goal was to understand how my brain figured things out on its own, without trying to force it to. Many people have built bikes like this and figured it out in much less than 1 day by staying on the bike until they were able to master it. I had no timelines, and was using this as an exploratory activity to learn how I learn. Do not misinterpret this to mean that I struggled and tried very hard every day for 8 months. That's simply not true."
Destin went on to explain that while it took him 8 months to learn to ride the "Backwards Brain Bicycle" he actually forgot how to ride a normal bicycle. That's right, he could no longer simply get on a normal bicycle and ride it. He had to alter the cognitive part of his mind, which took some twenty minutes of trying really hard to re-learn how to ride a normal bicycle. Then to ride the "Backwards Brain Bicycle" again, he had to once again alter the cognitive part of his mind to accept the difference between the two bicycles. And, any slight distraction would throw his brain back into the old control algorithm and he would crash.
Because of Destin's age (31) he found it really difficult to learn how to ride the "Backwards Brain Bicycle" and to shift back and forth between the two types of bicycles. However, his 6 year old son, who has been riding a normal bicycle for 3 years (half of his life) only took two weeks to learn how to ride the "Backwards Brain Bicycle". Why? Because children have more neural plasticity than an adult. That is why the best time to learn a language is when you are very young. The older you become, the more difficult it will be to learn a language.
So, the truth of the matter is that I have waited much too long to learn Spanish, and even if I did learn to speak Spanish, then I would forget how to speak English. And then each time that I had to shift between the two languages it would take me 40 minutes, as I am twice Destin's age.
Now, enjoy the video below and don't ask me to learn Spanish today. It will take me at least 1 year and a half to just learn how to ride the "Backwards Brain Bicycle"!
1. Destin Sandlin is the creator of the YouTube channel Smarter Every Day. He has credited his fascination with the scientific method and his job as a rocket engineer for having inspired him to make educational videos. Most episodes of Smarter Every Day feature scientific experiments with Sandlin hosting or narrating. He has demonstrated experiments such as tracking the movement patterns of a chicken’s head, a do-it-yourself high-speed camera, and other content designed to educate viewers on a variety of scientific topics. As of 2015, the channel has over 2.7 million subscribers and 188 million views. If you have not yet visited Destin's YouTube channel, you should, but be prepared to waste a better part of what ever is left in your day watching the videos. Like I found, Destin is akin to eating Doritos - you can't just watch one! And, there are already over 200 videos on his channel.