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Age Constraints on Second-Language Acquisition

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 838 words Published: 28th Jul 2021

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The main topic of this study is to see if the age in which a child immigrates to America has any affect on their relationship with English. The authors tested native Korean speakers, all of whom moved to the United States at various ages on their understanding of English syntax and phonology. They were testing them to see if the critical period hypothesis stands. The critical period hypothesis rests on the belief that as a person matures, their brain begins to become less  plastic, and as the brain loses neural plasticity, it also loses its second language learning ability.  (Scovel, 1988; Patkowski, 1980, 1990). However, others believe that second language learning ability is related to how often the second language is actually implemented into conversations (Oyama, 1979; Flege, 1987, 1988, 1995, 1998b; Bialystok, 1997). The authors are trying to see which of these two theories are valid; the maturational theory or the interactive theory. While both theories have yielded supporting evidence, there is not enough data to know which theory is more valid. Also, it is difficult to test the critical period theory because there can be multiple factors contributing to why a child is unable to acquire language past a certain age. The authors hypothesis is that age of arrival does have an affect on the relationship they will have with English as their second language.

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The authors tested 240 native Korean speakers. All of these people had immigrated to America between the ages of 1 and 3, and had lived in America for at least 8 years. Their age at the time of testing ranged from 17 to 47 years old. There were also 24 native English speakers in the study, and their ages ranged from 20-45. They used the discontinuity theory for this study. The discontinuity theory is the idea that development occurs in a series of distinct stages rather than gradually in a continuous process. The participants were split into 10 groups based on their age of arrival to the United States. Most of the participants completed high school in the United States, and many also went on to higher education in the US as well. Participants were tested on an individual basis by bilingual Korean-English research assistants in an hour and a half study session. The participants were asked to repeat English sentences that were later examined by 22.05 kHz where they were normalized for peak intensity. They were then  judged by native English speakers for degree of foreign accent by having them rate the sentences on a scale 1-9 from strong foreign accent to no accent. Now to test their morphosyntax, the participants were asked to take a 144 item grammaticality judgement test. In the test, they had a recording of a man speaking both grammatical and ungrammatical sentences, and the participants had to judge which were grammatical, and which were not. These were the two methods used to test if age of arrival had any effect on the relationship of learning English as a second language.


The aim of this study was to see if the age in which a person moved to the United States had any impact on their relationship with learning English as a second language. In the study, the authors tested 240 Native Korean speakers to see if their age of arrival affected the way they learned English as their second language. They were tested on their phonology by examining their accent for degree of foreign accent as well as their understanding of English morphology by having the participants take a 144 item grammaticality judgment test. The results showed that age of arrival had more of an impact on the participants morphosyntactic understanding compared to their phonological understanding. Based off the data, we could conclude that age of arrival definitely affects a persons relationship with learning English as a second language. This finding definitely supports the idea that a critical period exists when it comes to learning a second language. One problem with the study is that it does not explain why morphosyntactic understanding was affected more than phonological understanding. There could be a number of reasons contributing to this, and it is still unknown exactly why this is the case. I think that this study really helped to prove that there is a correlation between the age of arrival and ability to pick up a second language. However, more research needs to be conducted in order to understand exactly what factors are causing difficulties to arise in being able to learn a second language after a certain age. Also, more research could be done to find out exactly what age it is that second language learning ability starts to decrease.


  • Flege, J. E., Yeni-Komshian, G. H., & Liu, S. (1999). Age Constraints on Second-Language Acquisition. Journal of Memory and Language, 41, 78-104


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