Effect of Age on Acquisition of a Second Language for School. Age-Related Factors in Second Language Acquisition.
Collier, Virginia P. Twyford, Charles William
National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, Wheaton, MD. (BBB21974)
No of pages:
Two articles; 12 p.
These two articles both discuss the question of how age affects second language acquisition. Both articles observe that optimum age for second language acquisition varies depending on the type of language being acquired. For instance, although older children show an initial advantage in the acquisition of basic oral second language skills, younger children show a long term advantage. The younger children eventually catch up and outperform the older ones after several years time. However, in the acquisition of English for academic purposes, the level of proficiency is much more complex than English for everyday survival. Academic English, called "context-reduced" or "elaborated," relies primarily on linguistic cues. It is much more difficult to produce and comprehend than "context-embedded" or "restricted" language, which implies face-to-face communication where meaning can be negotiated. It is important for academic success that students acquire ability in cognitively demanding, decontextualized language. Various studies have shown that older students (8 to 12) are faster, more efficient acquirers of school language than younger students (4 to 7). However, students who begin second language acquisition at ages 12 to 15 show the greatest difficulty reaching age and grade norms. The two articles differ in their explanations for these findings. The first article ascribes the superiority of the 8 to 12 year olds in academic language acquisition to their more advanced cognitive development and their greater familiarity with school learning methods. It explains the apparent contradiction of the 12 to 15 year olds experiencing the greatest difficulty by the fact that these children have to learn concepts of greater complexity with less time to make up for the years lost in the acquisition of a second language. The second article sees these explanations as insufficient. While drawing no definite conclusions, the article mentions other factors which may influence language acquisition ability at various ages: sociocultural factors, such as the learning of the necessary codes expected for school study; affective factors, such as self- confidence, anxiety and motivation; and the nature of the language presented to the learner in the acquisition process. Both articles stress the importance of remembering individual differences among learners. The first article cites 68 references; the second article cites 14 references. (IEW)