Learning to speak was the most remarkable thing you ever did. It wasn’t just the 50,000 words you had to master to become fluent or the fact that for the first six years of your life you learned about three new words per day. It was the tenses and the syntax and the entire scaffolding of grammar, not to mention the metaphors and allusions and the almost-but-not-quite synonyms.
Humans are crude linguists from the moment of birth — and perhaps even in the womb — to the extent at least that we can hear spoken sounds and begin to recognize different combinations language sounds. At first, we don’t much care which of these phonemes from which languages we absorb, which makes sense since the brain has to be ready to learn any of the world’s thousands of languages depending on where we’re born.