Age and Second Language Acquisition

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With the increasing popularity of dual immersion programs in schools and the widespread notion that language acquisition is something that needs to happen early on life, is there an ideal age to learn a second language (L2)?

Wilder Penfield and Lamar Roberts first introduced the idea that there is a “critical period” for learning language in 1959. This critical period is a biologically determined period referring to a period of time when learning/acquiring a language is relatively easy and typically meets with a high degree of success. German linguist Eric Lenneberg further highlights Roberts and Penfield’s findings and postulated the Critical Period Hypothesis in 1967. According to the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH), certain biological events related to language development can only happen in the critical period. During this time, the brain possesses a degree of flexibility (ability and ease of learning a language) and becomes lateralized (assignment of language functions becomes concrete – either in the left or right hemisphere) (Marinova-Todd, S; Marshall, D & Snow, C. 2000 9-10). This critical period lasts from childhood through the onset of puberty (usually at around 12 years of age). Once this period is over, it is more difficult to learn a language because language functions in the brain have become concrete. This hypothesis can be seen with the case of Genie, a woman who was isolated from human interaction and language up to the age of 13. By the time she was rescued, she was well after the critical period for language acquisition, and as such, she did not have a full command of the English language. Had she been rescued before the age of 13, she may have had more linguistic capability. However, this accounts for firs...

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... of the L2, they can effectively lower their affective filters. All in all, there is no ideal age to learn a second language. It all depends on the individual and his/her circumstances.

Works Cited

Brown, H. (2000). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. 4th Ed. New York:


Krashen, S.D. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Prentice

Hall International pp. 13-14, 29-30

Marinova-Todd, S., Marshall, D., Snow, C. (2001).Three Misconceptions about Age and

L2 Learning. TESOL Quarterly, vol. 34, No. 1. TESOL Inc pp. 9-10, 25-27

Schouten, A. (2009). The Critical Period Hypothesis: Support, Challenge, and

Reconceptualization. Working Papers in TESOL & Applied Linguistics Vol. 9,

No. 1 pp. 3-4

Zhang, C. (2009). A Study of Age Influence in L2 Acquisition. Asian Social Science Vol.

5, No. 5. pp. 133-135
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