A new study has revealed that the harder adults try to learn an artificial language, the worse they are at deciphering the language's morphology, the structure and deployment of linguistic units such as root words, suffixes, and prefixes.
The researchers discovered an evidence for another factor that contributes to adults' language difficulties.
Lead researcher, Amy Finn, a postdoc at MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research said that children would ultimately perform better than adults in terms of their command of the grammar and the structural components of language, some of the more idiosyncratic, difficult-to-articulate aspects of language that even most native speakers didn't have conscious awareness of.
The findings support a theory of language acquisition that suggests that some parts of language are learned through procedural memory, while others are learned through declarative memory.
Under this theory, declarative memory, which stores knowledge and facts, would be more useful for learning vocabulary and certain rules of grammar.
Procedural memory, which guides tasks that one performs, without conscious awareness of how one learned them, would be more useful for learning subtle rules related to language morphology.
Finn further added that it was likely to be the procedural memory system that was really important for learning those difficult morphological aspects of language; when one uses the declarative memory system, it doesn't help but harms him.
Finn is now looking for the answers for the question of whether adults can overcome this language-learning obstacle.
This study is published in the July 21 issue of PLOS ONE.