Child–Adult Differences in Second-Language Phonological Learning: the Role of Cross-Language Similarity

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William Brandenburg
Interaction Hypothesis
“Child–Adult Differences in Second-Language Phonological Learning: The Role of Cross-Language Similarity” examines an explanation of why it is easier for children than adults to acquire a second language other than the concept that a person has critical neurological periods where he is more able to assimilate a language. The idea examined is called “Interaction Hypothesis” (IH.) This concept is that a person’s first and second languages interact with each other. As an individual ages, his first language becomes a stronger force behind making the sounds that compose a second language. For this reason, it is easier for a young child to become fluent in a second language. According to this hypothesis, it is easier for a child to overcome the effect of his first language when learning a second one because the first is not as firmly entrenched as it would be in an adult. This hypothesis agrees with the idea of the existence of critical periods when it is easier for a person to master a second language. However, it differs in the reason why; the ability is not because of a change in a person’s neurological functioning.

In this study, a group of Korean adults and a group of Korean children were selected to take two tests that would measure how frequently they placed English vowels into corresponding categories composed of Korean vowels. The results showed that Korean adults more consistently put the vowels into the same category, indicating that their first language influenced how they viewed their second language more than it did in the group of children. Because of this, it was easier for the children to master their second language.

This study shows that the theory of a neurological basis for adults having a more difficult time acquiring language than children should not be considered the only viable theory as to why this difference exists. The study mentions how difficult it is to test for “biologically-determined...
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