Yes it is a fascinating subject how the young are able to learn with incredible little invested in them…I read recently that most 4 year olds have more or less mastered their mother tongues with little or no formal training along the way to age 4…go figure?
Here is a brief extract from an article I read by Vyvyan Evans, Professor of Linguistics at Bangor, Maine:
” Imagine you’re a traveller in a strange land. A local approaches you and starts jabbering away in an unfamiliar language. He seems earnest, and is pointing off somewhere. But you can’t decipher the words, no matter how hard you try.
That’s pretty much the position of a young child when she first encounters language. In fact, she would seem to be in an even more challenging position. Not only is her world full of ceaseless gobbledygook; unlike our hypothetical traveller, she isn’t even aware that these people are attempting to communicate. And yet, by the age of four, every cognitively normal child on the planet has been transformed into a linguistic genius: this before formal schooling, before they can ride bicycles, tie their own shoelaces or do rudimentary addition and subtraction. It seems like a miracle. The task of explaining this miracle has been, arguably, the central concern of the scientific study of language for more than 50 years.’
Noam Chomsky has also written about what he refers to as the ‘Language Instinct’ (that we all were born with a predisposition that allowed us to pick up language far easier than other hominid species)