The Mandarin Stars early Mandarin education program for kids was developed on the foundation that picking up a new language is easier as a kid. Now it looks like more and more is being written about language acquisition that backs up this fact.
In 1967, neuroscientist Eric Lenneberg presented his argument that there is a "critical period" for language acquisition, beyond which and without the normal stimulation, a person could never really develop a natural way of speaking. In a similar vein, he also suggested that if you don't start learning a second language during your youth, you'll be doomed to second-rate pronunciation. Subsequent studies found that Lenneberg was onto something when they studied immigrants who arrived in the US at different ages. The ones who arrived earlier in their lives seemed to have a clear advantage in English skills even if they spent the same amount of time immersed in English overall.
An article in Popular Science discusses some potential explanations for this:
- a child's brain has special qualities making it more adaptable or nimble
- their minds are not as cluttered with a first language (the more trained our mind is with native vowel sounds, the more automatic those sounds become and it's harder to produce strange new ones)
- children have more and better sources of input when learning languages
- their learning situation creates less anxiety, they get credit just for trying
Source: Popular Science September 2014