Is there a Critical Period for learning a Second Language?

Posted by Your Language Coach Cairns on January 31, 2013

Is there a Critical Period for learning a Second Language?

The extent to which the ability to acquire a first language is governed by age and the resulting hypothesis of a critical period during which a second language has to be acquired, is and has been heavily and widely debated in linguistics. While the critical period hypothesis has found extensive recognition amongst first language researchers, a critical period for second language acquisition is much less widely accepted.

We can generally say, that while there is a window for learning a second language, that window may get narrower over time but may never fully close. It should be mentioned that there are linguistics features that are much more likely to be affected by age than others: Grammatical rules for example are more quickly acquired by adult learners, however, child learners will not just catch up with them, they will also overtake them at some stage. Secondly, adult learners will nearly always maintain an accent that, depending on the individual and the learner’s first language, may be stronger or weaker. Personally, I have found that particularly with pronunciation, other factors such as motivation and a desire ‘to be like’ the people of a particular language and most importantly an immediate and direct contact with a certain accent are far more likely to affect the acquisition of such.

 


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