The age at which language can be learnt is an area that has been given attention by different researchers. Researchers have tested syntax, lexical, phonological and grammatical differences of different people and of different ages in which they acquired the first and the second language. Different results have led to the explanation of the language acquisition patterns that are revealed by children and adults of the first and second language. This is a critical review of literature on the critical age for language acquisition. It will analyze studies of first language and second language acquisition.
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Discussing whether there is a critical age for language acquisition
First language acquisition
Mayberry and Eichen (1991, p. 486) argue that the age has a significant impact on acquisition of language. Learning a language is easier for an individual when they are young than when they are of age. Those who learn a language when young tend to have positive outcomes than those who learnt in adulthood. When a language is learnt in childhood, the outcomes are superior to those of those who learnt later.
Mahoney (2008, p. 1) argues that there is a specific age at which a child is at prime age to learn language while interacting with the environment. Biologically, a child is capable of acquiring the language they are exposed to in their infancy and childhood. The brain mechanism in the early years of life allows the child to internalize any language that they are introduced to.
It is possible for a child to gain fluency in more than one language if they are introduced during the prime age of language acquisition. Children learn language better than adults in a natural setting. The adults are able to increase their competence if they take more time in practice and learning the language in an academic setting.
Wagner (2001, p. 1) notes that there is a biological explanation. After adolescence the capacity of the brain is unable to accommodate learning functions. The brain is assigned different functions and the child can no longer learn any language as before. Consequently brain damage after puberty implies that permanent damage in language acquisition occurs.
Patients whose brain is damaged before puberty can recover and acquire language as before. The argument is that the left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for language acquisition. If language skills are transferred to the right hemisphere before adolescence, the child would retain their language competence.
The research was conducted on the acquisition of the first language and second language acquisition was not investigated, hence the argument applies for first language use.
Children have the ability to differentiate words from a sentence. Adults are unable to differentiate a word in a sentence when the words are spoken. The ability to pick words demonstrates the ability of children to learn. Adults require more time and assistance to study a new language. Moreover, children are capable of understanding expressions shown on the face (Brown, 2000).
Kasper (2003, p. 1) says that children have the same ability of acquiring language and undergo a process before learning specific language. They begin by making cooing sound that are similar in all children across the world. Then the child begins to coo similar sound of the first language that surrounding people use. Thereafter, the child learns to speak the first language.
Second language acquisition
Bilingual speakers learn languages at different times, depending on the time the need for acquisition emerges. In line with Mayberry and Eichen (1991, p. 487), adults learn language within a short period than children. Children learn the second language slowly.
The second language for children may come as a result of a requirement in the school system or the relocation of their family. Although children learn the language slowly, they gain a high proficiency than their parents. The ability to comprehend the language is easier for children than for the adults.
The acquisition of the second language acquisition is affected by the first language of an individual. The motor or sensory is set on the first language. Making changes to accommodate the second language is challenging. The level of first language acquired affects the ability to learn the second language. It is simple to learn the sensory and motor when the acquisition of the first language is at low levels.
The individual accommodates the patterns with less difficulty if they are in their childhood. In adulthood, the level of development of the first language is at high levels and learning the patterns can be challenging. Adjusting the sensory patterns to the second language is intricate.
Davis and Kelly (1997, p. 445) state that the acquisition age is in the first years of an individual’s life and declines when adolescence approaches. Children who acquire the second language at an early age show proficiency similar to that of children who acquired the language as their first language.
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The understanding and ability to learn vocabulary is determined by time spend practicing the language. Those who learnt the second language in childhood tend to take a short time to recognize vocabulary and have better pronunciation of words than those who learnt later in life. One gains a vast amount of vocabulary in their childhood and continues learning in adulthood.
The process is endless and one could apply the efforts in learning the second language vocabulary and gain competence. Learning the vocabulary later in life will have difficulty incorporating the vocabulary in a grammatical sentence than a young child would (BrainConnection, 2011, p. 1).
Wagner (2001, p. 2) attributes the learning difficulties in adulthood to the setting of the learning environment. Adults learn the second language in a formal setting which children learn the second language in natural environment where there are social interactions. Parents have the challenge of making mistakes while the children are not afraid of making mistakes.
Adults learn a language after gaining perceptions and attitudes towards the language and may lack motivation to make significant efforts to acquire the knowledge. Learning of the second language in college as a requirement may make the adult lack courage to speak to avoid embarrassment and only learn so that they attain their certificates as a requirement.
Robertson (2011, p. 1) says that the teacher of the second language has an impact on the attitude and results of the second language acquisition. Teachers of the second language who speak the language as their first language teach with enthusiasm and positively impact on their students. Young children are able to capture the pronunciation and accent correctly.
Adult learners have opinion on the second language acquisition. Children tend to practice speaking and take more time in social interactions where they gain skills. Adult learners have challenges in incorporating the new language. Those who end up being proficient gain interest and practice speaking on regular basis.
Practicing how to speak a language is considerable. Children learning from parents gain proficiency at a tender age and perform better than those who practice the second language outside their home. The parents should possess excellent grammar and sentence structure to influence their children positively in language. Children depict language patterns and imitate parents.
Learning a second language in adulthood enables the child to master pronunciations of words accurately. Mahoney (2008, p. 1) suggests that proficiency in language could be achieved if an adult repeatedly uses a second language for a long time and the user attains a different arrangement of processing language.
According to Arizona.edu (2002, p. 2), syntax acquisition is inclined in the age of the learner. Adult learners perform poorly where as children have excellent results. The argument is that neurological changes which occur at the onset of adolescent cause loss of language learning capacity in the brain. The brain mature and its capacity cannot accommodate all the functions including that of language acquisition.
The language acquisition age varies with different stages. At one point, a child is capable of learning phonology effectively and the case is the same for syntax, lexical and grammatical rules. The acquisition of the first language is similar to the second language if the language is introduced at a tender age. The acquisition of the second language is likely to be complete if a child learns it before the onset of adolescence.
The ability to learn a complete language depends on the time it was introduced. Those who learn the first language or the second language after puberty or adolescent have incomplete language skills. There are some aspects of language like accent that at infancy and early childhood.
Age affects the ability to learn a language but it does not make one totally unable to learn a language. Moreover, language is learnt throughout life. In some cases, children are unable to learn a second language earlier than the onset of puberty (Net Industries, 2011, p. 1).
Wagner (2001, p. 2) argues that accent should not be overemphasized in the determination of the success of second language acquisition. Adults are capable of learning and gaining dexterity in the second language. Adults can adapt new sounds, and can gain proficiency if they engage in regular practice for long.
Snow and Hohle (2010, p. 1) argue that individual effort determines the ability to acquire a language. Individual’s ability to acquire a new language is diverse and their ability to learn is dependent on their capabilities. In the first language and in the second language learning is dependent on their ability and interest. People do comprise of equal language skill since their interest in language vary.
It is possible for a person learning a second language to gain proficiency in pronunciation and grammar similar to that of speaker of the first language. Learning language can occur at every stage of life if the learner has interest.
Social interaction plays an important part in language acquisition and is a continuous process in life. Children who are denied social interaction are likely to develop problem in language acquisition than adults.
Mayberry and Eichen (1991, p. 486) argue that children who are isolated may be unable to acquire a language proficiently if they are released in adulthood. If the children in isolation are released to interact and learn language while in childhood they are likely to be proficient.
Acquisition of language after childhood is dawdling. The adult learner may have consistent problems in following the rules of grammar and learning vocabulary. When childhood is gone, the ability to learn is not entirely diminished, one remains able to learn although they take long and require additional efforts.
Acquisition of language is intertwined with the societal interaction. Those with emotional and psychological crisis experience complexity. Children are largely affected if they are at the age when they begin to learn language
Deafness and Sign language
Children with deaf conditions have diverse outcomes of language acquisition. Some are born with partial hearing ability and are able to learn the spoken language. Others are unable to hear from birth. The time at which sign language is introduced is diverse and shows different results. Congenital deafness affects the speech and perception of the spoken language. The child is unable to read lips and text.
They require intensive instructions although they do not gain language proficiency in spoken language even when it is the first language. However, they are good in non-verbal communication and their performance is normal. The ages at which the instructions are given are important. Young children at the learning age have the ability to acquire many skills than when they are older (Mayberry and Eichen, 1991, p. 489).
Sign language is best acquired in childhood than in adulthood. Children born of parents who are deaf learn how to use the sign language early. Children born to parents who are not deaf take long to learn because the parents take long to begin the child’s sign language instruction.
The parents have to learn the sign language along with them. Learning of sign language largely depends on the time the sign language instructions are made available. If they are introduced during the child’s schooling years, the child becomes a master in sign language than those who learn sign language in adulthood.
Learning sign language with parents who use sign language gives a deaf child an advantage over the other who learnt after childhood in an institution. Learning sign language after early childhood requires the child to spend a lot of time practicing to attain similar proficiency to the child born by deaf parents. When the sign language is introduced early, the child will acquire the language within a short period.
Deaf children without an opportunity to learn sign language communicate using gestures, which are referred to as home signs (Mayberry and Eichen, 1991, p. 489). Children who develop home sign give it order and rules which makes the language highly structures.
Since they are deprived of sign language they get the opportunity to learn sign language at a later age. When they learn the sign language in adulthood, they are unable to gain the same proficiency as those born of parents who used sign language from infancy.
Children who learnt sign language internalize the signs in the memory and can deduce meaning from signs. Those who learnt the sign language later pay attention to the pattern and have difficulties retrieving the meaning of signs from already learnt signs. Adult learners of sign language have challenges integrating the meaning and understanding than childhood learners.
The ability to learn and internalize grammar changes with age. Adulthood learners have difficulty acquiring knowledge of language structure. Children are believed to have the ability to learn grammar.
Adult learners who have proficiency in their first language are capable of learning the second language with less difficulty than those with insufficient knowledge on the first language. Learning is simple if an individual has mastered the first language grammar.
Mayberry and Eichen (1991, p. 507) note that speech production in the first decade of an individual plays a significant role. One is able to develop an accent of a language within the first 10 years of life. Those who learn a language after the 10 years are likely to use a linguistic structure similar to that of their first language.
Acquisition of sign language is more challenging than acquisition of spoken language. The learner of spoken language has reduced difficulty learning the second language since they have acquired the first language. In the case of congenital deafness, the learner of the sign language has no prior understanding of any language and begins learning signs without prior knowledge.
Learning for the deaf without parents using sign language, is delayed acquisition of first language. When subjected to learning in adulthood, the setbacks are big when compared to an adult learning the second language.
Mayberry and Eichen (1991, p.508) indicate that children who learnt sign language after learning spoken language perform better than those born deaf. Since they had learnt the first spoken language before becoming deaf they are able internalize the signs.
Acquisition of language is impacted the learner’s age. Before adolescent, children can learn the first and second language competently. At the beginning children have the opportunity to learn the first language. When the need to learn the second language arises before puberty, the child will gain proficiency as in the first language.
After adolescence and adulthood, learning the second language is challenging since people remain with accent and pronunciation difficulties. This is because a child’s brain has the capacity to learn language until the onset of puberty. Additionally, the environment that child grows up in has an impact on their language acquisition. Furthermore, children have an equal ability to learn language.
There are differences in language acquisition for adults and for children. Research indicates that children learn language easier than adults. The adults will learn within a short period while the children learn for a long time and obtain proficiency that exceeds that of the adults. Adults who are second language learners use the patterns of the first language to learn.
On the other hand children learn from social interactions and are not afraid of making mistakes. Children are capable of distinguishing words from a sentence which adult learners cannot. Adults perform poorly in language acquisition because it is often a requirement and fail to practice speaking for fear of getting embarrassed. Practice in both children and adults increase their proficiency.
Acquiring second in sign language is more challenging than in spoken language. Children born with congenital deafness acquire sign language early if their parents use sign language. If the parents do not use sign language at infancy, the deaf child acquisition of the first language is delayed.
On the other hand Children who learn sign language after learning spoken language perform well than children born deaf. Therefore, acquisition of language is inclined to a specific language.
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