Most adults find it hard to pick up new languages. Several things including syntax, vocabulary, and grammar will come in the way. Few people can overcome these hurdles effortlessly. How come children can pull it off easily?
A toddler from India, if shifted to UK or USA, will speak English with native accent in a few months. But its brain is still growing; however, the child is somehow able to respond to meaning in the sound. This effortless mastery of languages has always dismayed scientists, and is particularly true of mother tongues.
It is truism to say that no mother teaches any language. However, they are the earliest teachers in some way. Growing up in urban setting means children have many sources. Not necessarily their mothers. Friends at schools and neigbhourhood share words and phrases, unwittingly while at play.
Does this happen universally? A team of scientists including those from University of California studied primitive society in Bolivian Amazon. There is no better place than this. Because, they still lead unadulterated lives, with no idea of systematic teaching of kids, and no access to schools. The researchers studied the Tsimane, a forager-horticulturists people, from 2002 to 2005. The result is out now in journal Child Development. They spent time in a village observing how interactions took place each day.
All speakers, who interacted with kids aged below four, spent less than one minute per hour. This is up to ten times less than for young children in Western countries, reports say. Still, mothers are the ones who speak to their children most often. This is same in modern civilized culture as well. The truth is majority of words children spoke after age three came from other children. Most often the major source is siblings, not mothers. Is this universal?