Critical Hypothesis

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Teachers College, Columbia University, Working Papers in TESOL & Applied Linguistics, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 1 The Critical Period Hypothesis: Support, Challenge, and Reconceptualization

The Critical Period Hypothesis: Support, Challenge, and Reconceptualization Andy Schouten1 Kanda University of International Studies

Given the general failure experienced by adults when attempting to learn a second or foreign language, many have hypothesized that a critical period exists for the domain of language learning. Supporters of the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) contend that language learning, which takes place outside of this critical period (roughly defined as ending sometime around puberty), will inevitably be marked by non-nativelike features. In opposition to this position, several researches have postulated that, although rare, nativelike proficiency in a second language is in fact possible for adult learners. Still others, in light of the robust debate and research both supporting and challenging the CPH, have reconceptualized their views regarding a possible critical period for language learning, claiming that in combination with age of exposure, sociological, psychological, and physiological factors must also be considered when determining the factors that facilitate and debilitate language acquisition. In this paper, a review of literature describing the support, challenges, and reconceptualizations of the CPH is provided.

The presence of highly developed cognitive abilities allows adults to outperform children in most areas of learning. Yet in the realm of language learning, children seem to have a notable advantage. Virtually all children are able to master their native language, and most children who are surrounded by a second language at an early age can acquire this language with nativelike competence. Among adult language learners, however, incomplete mastery of the target language appears to be the norm. The presence of...
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