As adults, it feels like such a chore to remember new words in another language, yet children seem to pick them up effortlessly. Why?

Children learn languages by listening, not by studying. If you really listen to a language, you will not only learn words, but grammar, too. This way is also more fun than poring over grammar books.

Start with sound. Learning the sounds of new words makes them easier to remember.

In one experiment by researchers at Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon, Japanese adults sat with headphones, in front of screens and were asked to press a button labeled ”lock” when they heard the word “lock” and a button labeled ”rock” when they heard the word ”rock”. As the Japanese language doesn’t have an ”L” sound, most Japanese speakers cannot detect the difference between L and R. Therefore, as expected, the participants performed poorly in this task.

How could they master English if they couldn’t pick up the difference in sounds? To them, “rock” and “lock” would be written the same way.

But the experiment revealed something interesting. If the students were shown whether they were right or wrong by a sign on the screen every time they pushed a button, they learned to hear the difference after only three twenty-minute sessions.

Another advantage of you learning a language’s sounds first is that it will help you learn grammar faster.

The classic “Wug” test verified these results. In the test, children are presented with a drawing of a bird-like figure and are told it’s called a ”Wug.” They are then presented with two of them and the researchers say ”Now there are two. There are two . . . ?” By the time children are around the age of five, they’ll know that English forms plurals by adding “s” to the end of nouns and so will answer ”Wugs.”

If the children hadn’t already understood the “s” sound, they wouldn’t be able to learn this grammatical pattern.