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“Age” Effects on Second Language Acquisition. Examination of 4 hypotheses related to age and language learning. http:// jimflege.com /files/Flege_MacKay_2010.pdf. Age and language learning stereotypes:

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age effects on second language acquisition

“Age” Effects on Second Language Acquisition

Examination of 4 hypotheses related to age and language learning

http://jimflege.com/files/Flege_MacKay_2010.pdf

introduction is earlier better

Age and language learning stereotypes:

  • Everyone who begins to learn an L2 after puberty is destined to speak with a foreign accent (FA)
  • Anyone to begin learning an L2 before the end of the “critical” period will learn the L2 effortlessly, rapidly, and perfectly

What does research say about the effects of age on the overall success of learning an L2?

Introduction: Is earlier better?
age and l2 acquisition

“age” refers to the chronological age at which L2 learning begins

  • Age of L2 learning= age of arrival (AOA) in the host country
  • AOA
  • Reported accurately
  • Participants differing in AOA are easy to recruit= robust outcomes
Age and L2 acquisition
aoa studies

Johnson and Newport (1989)

  • Examination of 12 English grammatical structures- label each sentence as grammatical or ungrammatical
  • 46 Chinese and Korean speakers (students/professors-lived in U.S. for at least 3 years
  • Strong correlation between early AOA and percent correct scores
  • Flege (1991)
  • Measured acoustic phonetic dimension in speech production, voice-onset time (VOT)
  • Early-late native Spanish learners of English
  • Early learners pronounced the English “t” with an average VOT similar to an English monolingual
  • Late learners pronounced the English “t” with VOT values that were intermediate to the mean value obtained for English and Spanish monolinguals
AOA Studies
1 the maturational constrain hypothesis h1

H1 states that internal changes that occur as humans mature render less effective mechanisms that promote language acquisition

  • Seems to predict differences between early and late learners as well as the strong AOA-L2 performance correlations in many studies
  • Flege (1999) evaluated degree of FA in Italian/Korean Immigrants to Canada/US
  • No Koreans and only 1 Italian participant with an AOA of more than 12 years were found to be “accent free”
1. The Maturational Constrain Hypothesis (H1)
the maturational constrain hypothesis h1

HOWEVER- less than 1/2 of the Italians and only 1/4 of the Koreans with an AOA of less than 10 years were found to be “accent free”

  • Educated in English-medium schools, immersed with English for more than 15 years, English is used more than L1
The Maturational Constrain Hypothesis (H1)
the maturational constrain hypothesis h11

Another problem for H1: generation of a prediction that has been falsified in studies

  • AOA effects are due to the passing of a critical period  expect L2 performance to decline as participants’ AOAs near the end of a critical period
  • HOWEVER- Performance should remain stable after the end of the critical period because everyone should show equally the effects of having passed the critical period
  • Flege (1999)- FAs continued to grow stronger beyond the critical period
The Maturational Constrain Hypothesis (H1)
2 the cognitive development hypothesis h2

L2 learning becomes gradually less effective across the entire life span because cognitive abilities needed for speech and language learning diminish slowly across the life span

  • Hakuta (2003)- Estimates of English proficiency based on responses of Chinese and Spanish speaking immigants decreased continuously from 10-60 years
  • Problems with H2: needs to identify the cognitive change that might be responsible
  • Not able to explain the difference between a native English speaker and an L2 learner with an AOA of 10 years
2. The Cognitive Development Hypothesis (H2)
3 changes in l1 l2 interactions h3

As the L1 system develops, the effect of cross-language phonetic interference becomes stronger because of differences in how the L1 and L2 sound systems interact

  • L1 categories develop slowly  become stronger “attractors” for sounds later encountered in an L2  learners less likely to create categories for L2 when sounds are similar
  • Early learners of L2 will be more likely to create new categories
3. Changes in L1-L2 interactions (H3)
3 changes in l1 l2 interactions h31

Flege (1991)- early Spanish learners of English produced “t” with native like values whereas late learners produced intermediate values to those of an English Monolingual able to create a new category sound for “t”

  • Problem for H3: Little research has been done to determine if the perceived dissimilarity of pairs of L1 and L2 sounds actually does decrease as L1 categories develop
3. Changes in L1-L2 interactions (H3)
4 more better input for early than late learners h4

L2 proficiency increases as a function of amount of L2 input

  • Participants who have used the L2 often over the years will outperform those have used L2 less often
  • Study of Italian immigrants in Canada- early and late learners with frequent use of L1 and infrequent use of L2  strong FA, less accurate pronunciation, poor vowel discrimination
4. More/Better Input for early than late learners (H4)
4 more better input for early than late learners h41

Problems with H4

  • Input differences do not contribute to age effects on L2 speech learning
  • Not clear to what extent input differences contribute to age effects
  • Language use differences do not predict all findings
4. More/Better Input for early than late learners (H4)
conclusion

None of the hypotheses offer an explanation of age effect

  • None were able to account for all of the evidence considered
  • Future research needs to be designed so certain factors can be eliminated: age related changes in the perceived relation between sounds in the L1 and L2, variations in the kind of input received, and the amount of L2 input received
Conclusion