Children are the world’s best imitators. Naturally observant (until we educate it out of them), they learn by watching, reflecting and doing, and one reason they pick up languages so quickly is that they’re willing to make mistakes and learn from them.
While an adult will mentally agonize over sentence structure before daring to utter anything aloud, a child will pipe up,
“Want cookie!” Whether or not he gets it, he at least has made the request known, while the adult is murmuring, “I . . . a cookie . . . please . . . like would.”
Sadly, children grow out of this, as they become aware of their surroundings and the gentle, deprecating chuckles that others are making at their expense. The more groups they enter — school, sports, church, 4-H — the more they adjust to conform to avoid this censure, and at the same time their intellect is growing and enabling them to learn even more and more, their desire to not be made fun of precludes this very learning.
Perhaps it is for this reason that conventional expertise makes the unsupported statement that, “The greatest learning takes place before the age of 5, so if you want a person to learn a second language, they’d better do it by then.”
(As a person who learned Spanish — quite competently — at the age of 23 by being completely immersed in it, I always knew this statement was false.)
Into the Surf, Steve’s oil painting of a young woman and a child, at the coast with the sun and the breeze and beautiful fabric, captures the wonder and sense of adventure that young children live with such exuberance. The young woman, graceful and serene, meditates upon the horizon while the young child, in her mind as tall and willowy as her elder, pantomimes the movement.
The painting is an encouragement to us to stand tall and graceful, like an adult, while at the same time we throw ourselves into learning and joy, like a child.
We don’t have to lose the exuberant willingness of a child — we just have to be aware that we’ve tucked it away somewhere, deep within, and it’s time to look for it and bring it out.
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