Age and Language Learning

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Age and Language Learning

What exactly is the relationship between age and language learning? There are numerous myths and misconceptions about the relative abilities or inabilities of language learners of different ages. Do children learn language faster? Is it impossible for adults to achieve fluency? In a word - no. These and other common beliefs are simply not true. Children do not necessarily learn faster than adults and, in fact, adults may learn more efficiently. Furthermore, there is no loss of language ability or language learning ability over time. Age is not a detriment to language learning, and by all accounts, learning a second (or third etc) language actually keeps the older language learners mind active. People of all ages can benefit from learning languages. It is generally believed that younger learners have certain advantages over older learners in language learning. The common notion is that younger children learn L2 easily and quickly in comparison to older children (Ellis, 2008; Larsen-Freeman, 2008; Mayberry & Lock, 2003). The relationship between age and success in SLA is linked to the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH). CPH, also known as “the sensitive period,” is defined as” a period of time when learning a language is relatively easy and typically meets with a high degree of success. Once this period is over, at or before the onset of puberty, the average learner is less likely to achieve nativelike ability in the target language” (Richards & Schmidt, 2002, p.145). The notion of critical period for a second language acquisition has been associated with several hypotheses. Some researchers have focused on the view that the younger learners as the better learners whereas others opine the older learners as the better learners. However, there are different perspectives on how the children and adults learn a foreign or second language. Adults naturally find themselves in such situations that demand more complex language and expression of more complicated ideas whereas children lack pressure and maturity in second language learning. David Singleton (1989) offered a number of proposals related to age and second language acquisition. The most popular notions are “the younger =the better” and “the older =the better” (Singleton, p. 31). He, on the basis of previous studies and research on age factor, focused on learners’ pronunciation skill and other linguistics features. There are a number of researches to support “the younger the better” hypothesis. Yamanda et al. (qtd. in Singleton, 1989) studied 30 Japanese elementary school pupils of seven to ten ages old. These students did not have any previous experience of English. The researchers used a list of 40 English words and recorded the rate of success of the students. Their finding was that the older the age the lower the score. A further immigrant study appeared in support of “the younger the better” hypothesis. Johnson and Newport (qtd. in Lightbown & Spada, 2008) selected 46 Chinese and Korean experimental subjects in their research. They tested some rules of English morphology and syntax among the participants of aged groups from three to 15 and with those aged groups from 17 to 39. The result was that those who began learning later did not have native like language abilities and their performance on the test varied more widely. Robert Dekeyser (2000) conducted a replication of the Johnson and Newport with a group of Hungarian immigrants to the United States. On the contrary, he concluded that adult learners were better than the younger ones. The second strong hypothesis is that older learners are more successful than younger language learners in SLA. This notion was highly supported by a number of short term experimental researchers. These studies and research were based on teaching projects and second language immersion programs. Some of these studies have highlighted adolescents and adults of...
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