That is where the theory of universal grammar comes in. This theory posits that all languages have the same basic structural foundation. While children are not genetically “hard-wired” to speak a particular language like Dutch or Japanese, universal grammar lets them learn the rules and patterns of these languages—including those they were never explicitly taught. Some linguists believe that universal grammar and its interaction with the rest of the brain is the design mechanism that allows children to become fluent in any language during the first few years of life. In fact, childhood may be a critical period for the acquisition of language capabilities. Some scientists claim that if a person does not acquire any language before the teen-aged years, they will never do so in a functional sense. Children may also have a heightened ability, compared to adults, to learn second languages--especially in natural settings. Adults, however, may have some advantages in the conscious study of a second language in a classroom setting.
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