Learning a novel language during any age remains an enormously rewarding experience in numerous ways. Whilst language learning is an inspiring experience for all individuals, children are the greatest beneficiaries of this magnificent adventure. Feasibly, starting early provides the broadest possible set of opportunities and gains.
We will write a custom Report on Proficiency In Learning Second Language specifically for you
301 certified writers online
How well individuals learn to speak a second language remains a product of a myriad of factors. Principal among these, and the aspect of age typically highlighted by psychologists and linguistics, is the age at which individuals initially start learning a second language, often referred to as ‘age of acquisition’ or ‘age at onset of second language learning (Grigorenko, 2012).
Nevertheless, it has proven difficult to pinpoint the exact age at which individuals start learning their second language. However, age at entry into new environments is considered a reliable proxy for age at the inception of the second language as it marks the age at which these people are immersed within an environment that is saturated with the second language.
In this context, the relationship linking the age of initiation of the process of learning a second language and the extent of proficiency acquired has emerged a critical issue in current research. This interest owes to two chief reasons. To begin with, there is a prevalent desire for the new generations to attain a high level of proficiency in foreign languages.
Moreover, a vast majority of the populace feels entitled to partake in this issue. However, regardless of the apparent heftiness of the general findings in the body of research, there is less consensus pertaining to what accounts for the correlation between age and the level of proficiency in learning second language. The chief query is whether there is an age-allied limitation on learning a second language.
Since the era of Lenneberg’s books, which focused particularly on acquisition of grammar and phonology, numerous studies have examined this question. Ostensibly, these studies appear to contradict each other. While some demonstrate a child’s advantage, others demonstrate an adult advantage.
The major objective of the study was to find out whether there exists a relationship between age at which an individual starts learning a second language and the level of proficiency in learning the second language.
The purpose of the study was to understand and determine the best stage recommended for learning second language.
The study endeavored at answering the following questions:
- Which is the best stage that individuals should learn a second language?
- Should children be taught foreign language? If yes, which age is appropriate for learning foreign/second language?
- Is there an age-allied limitation on the learning of a second language?
Ho– There is no significant relationship between age and the level of proficiency in learning second language
H1– There is a significant relationship between age and the level of proficiency in learning second language
Many researchers establish that age is probably the chief factor influencing the relationship between first language oral proficiency and second language word reading skills (Grigorenko, 2012; Mayo & Lecumberri, 2003; August & Shanahan, 2008). In this context, it is apparent that second language learners possess diverse degrees of success at different age levels.
In a study, Torras et al. (as cited in Mayo & Lecumberri, 2003) portrayed that a group of parents of children aged between 2 and 6 years who commenced learning English in pre-school firmly believed that these children were better learners as compared to adults.
They alleged that the principal benefits would influence vocabulary acquisition and pronunciation and, despite the fact that positive results were inadequate during the early stage of acquisition, they lay down their hopes in the future where the benefits of the early onset would be more evident.
Get your first paper with 15% OFF
The results of the study correspond with Singleton’s consensus view, which proposes that the sooner the exposure to the second language, the better the results remain in the long-term. Among the theoretical reasons to facilitate the process of learning a second language at a young age is the actuality that the capacity to segment and perceive sounds becomes progressively weakened as a function of age.
According to renowned belief, young persons are better and faster second language learners as compared to adults. Children are born with the capability to learn any novel language within the globe. Hence, children seem to attain a second language without much effort and they usually acquire high levels of proficiency.
However, the older these children get, the particular windows shut in terms of language acquisition, but as long as the children learn the language at a young age, predominantly before puberty, they should be in a position to speak fluently with a native accent.
Therefore, it is recommendable that children start learning a second language as early as possible because as they grow, they become susceptible to losing this unique capability. Furthermore, there may be loss of neurological plasticity subsequent to a critical epoch that inhibits an adult’s capability to attain particular aspects of novel linguistics skills, such as grammar and phonology.
Moreover, the older an individual is, the less motivated they become to communicate with native speakers from another language as well as integrate into their community. Equally, the older a person is the more anxious and self-conscious they become when communicating using the second language. Besides, younger learners tend to receive superior language input as compared to what adults receive for the language learning processes.
Not merely do young children attain a second language swiftly, but they as well learn to be capable of acquiring two languages simultaneously with no special difficulties. Conceivably, this is the most favorable state for any individual willing to speak two languages fluently during adulthood.
Critical period effects in second language learning
According to the critical period theory, there exists a certain window in which the skills of acquisition of second language are at their optimum. Lenneberg (1967) theorized that language could be acquired only within a critical period. Hence, language acquisition through exposure is only attainable during the critical period, which is from early infancy to puberty, in order to develop fully.
In most behavioral realms, competence is said to augment over development, whether in stages or gradually. Nonetheless, in some realms, it has been proposed that competence does not uniformly increase with development, but reaches a peak during the critical period, which may be rather early in life, and then dwindles when the period is over.
The brain development is low below the age of two but develops faster during puberty and looses plasticity. If a critical path hypothesis exists for first language learning, it could possibly exist for acquisition of a second language. However, there are discrepancies as to how long the window is.
Children in the critical period possess an almost universal success rate of attaining perfect accent and fluency in a second language, while adults remain less proficient. The extreme view poses the allegation whether subsequent to the critical period; individuals are not capable of acquiring a second language.
Lenneberg’s theory concerned merely first language acquisition, but left unanswered the question of whether the critical period did extend to second language acquisition that may occur after a first language is already in position.
Lateralization and second language acquisition
Easy acquisition of second language among children is highly allied to lateralization. Nonetheless, controversy exists as to when lateralization takes place. While some suppose that it occurs at puberty, others allege that it occurs at around five years.
Length of residence and the level of proficiency in learning second language
Demographers and sociologists have emphasized another aspect of the relationship between age and the level of proficiency in learning second language, and thus have employed a new set of rationales for the correlation between age and second language acquisition and proficiency. This research initiated with an emphasis on the length of residence as the principal predictor of second language proficiency.
The rationale for the hypothesized justification rests on a simple exposure argument alleging that learning a language takes opportunities and time, and immigrants who have been in a given country for longer have more opportunities and time to learn the language.
Recent sociological research has been controlled for the impact of age during migration, but has divided the length of residence into spans of time, measuring the participation in a sequence of life cycle stages within which the social contexts and opportunities to learn a novel language are certainly different.
Sociologists normally presume that immigrants’ attainment of English as a second language follows the motivations and opportunities to be proficient in English, whilst most linguistics allege that second language acquisition is governed by maturational constraints, mostly biologically based, which are allied to the age at onset of second language learning.
Among immigrants, proficiency in second language learning is typically determined by age at immigration. Hence, there appears to be a strong relationship between age at immigration and second language proficiency.
For instance, immigrants entering the United States during childhood are more likely to enroll in American schools, which is a rigorous learning milieu dominated by English, as opposed to those entering the country at an older age.
However, a broader evaluation of the studies portrays that the above-mentioned ideas and results are not conclusive, as revealed by the actuality that the hypothesis on the existence of a critical era during which second language acquisition is facilitated is still much at the core of the debate among researchers within the field.
A principal reason for the non-resolution of the debate is the reality that it is quite hard to isolate the age factor from the various variables, such as emotional and sociological factors, which interrelate with it.
Moreover, there exists no conclusive evidence for the critical period for second language acquisition, that is, a period lasting, for example, puberty within which learning must take place, and following which a second language cannot be learned completely or in the same manner. While Lannerberg assumed this critical period to be finished at around puberty, recent research casts doubts on this allegation.
Thus, it has become uncertain when this period occurs. Conceivably, merely an optimal or sensitive period for the acquisition of giving second language skills, predominantly pronunciation, may be established. Besides, a difference between the rate of acquisition and the extent of proficiency acquired must be established.
It appears that adults are faster second language learners as compared to children, particularly during the initial stages, but children tend to overtake them at a particular point, and attain higher degrees of proficiency. Similarly, older children, particularly aged between 9 and 12, are faster learners as opposed to younger children, between the age of 5 and 8.
Furthermore, numerous factors mediate the impact of age on proficiency in attainment of a second language. Owing to diversities in cognitive development, learners from diverse age groups may employ different learning strategies that may have effects on their particular second language skills. Additionally, there could be differences in the association between the student and the target language community.
The psychological and social distance between the student and the target community might be smaller for younger learners. Social factors are the diverse ways in which orators adjust themselves to fit the learning needs of the learners from diverse age groups.
It is apparent that native speakers tend to adjust the level of intricacy within their speech more while interacting with younger children as compared to when interacting with adults, thus offering a language input that is more stimulating for the acquisition of a second language.
There are numerous notable advantages linked to starting a second language at an early age. To begin with, starting a second language at an early age contribute to higher test scores. Researchers have found that students who have learnt a second native language are inclined to performing better as compared to their monolingual colleagues on most standardized tests, such as the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test).
Moreover, these children portray superior and more advanced reading skills. Bilingual children’s acquaintance with a second language endows them with a benefit in learning to read.
They possess the ability to apply the skills and insights of a single language to the other, and as well, their broader expertise of language offers them an immense opportunity. Additionally, learning a second language at an early age gives children greater confidence because this is an inimitably gratifying experience at any age.
The empirical studies talked about within this section did investigate the relationship between age and the level of proficiency in learning second language. Studies suggest that the younger a person starts learning a second language, the better the outcomes will be in the syntactic proficiency, reading skills, listening skills, accent, and the overall proficiency.
Other studies propose that even adults may perform better as compared to children in listening skills, and late starters may perform as excellent as native speakers in accent.
Much age-allied research has been carried out within the field of second language acquisition proficiency. However, the results vary and do not essentially agree. Hence, the aim of the current research report is to account whether the research carried out has found a significant correlation between age at which an individual commences learning a second language and the level of proficiency in learning second language.
Research Design and Methodology
According to Kerlinger (1973), research design refers to the structure, plan, and strategy of investigation conceived to obtain answers to the research questions. The purpose of this research was to investigate whether there is a significant relationship between age at which an individual starts learning a second language and the level of proficiency in learning second language.
This chapter on research methodology delineates the following aspects; target population, sample and sampling procedure, data collection procedures, research design, validity of the instruments, and data analysis techniques.
Data were collected using both qualitative and quantitative techniques. Sequential transformative and ethnographic designs were used in observing and interacting with the participants. Equally, these designs were vital in marking behavior and learning patterns as well as learning the level of influence on participant’s background, age, and environment with the ability to learn.
Then, quantitative-to-quality approach, which applied qualitative theory, social science theory, and advocacy worldwide, was used. The quasi-experimental mixed technique that used a pre-test and post-test control group was used to compare both adult’s performance and children’s performance of the institution set up.
Participants for the study were chosen from different learning institutions. Participants were selected to represent the various ages of persons learning a second language within the country. They comprised of children and adults from similar social backgrounds.
A majority of the participants came from middle class families. The sampling of this research was purposive to enable the researcher collect data from participants of varying age groups. Participants from schools were pulled from class rosters obtained from Literature and Composition courses.
Participants were enrolled in three classes. However, the participants were not subdivided into smaller groups owing to the importance attached to natural settings. Each group participated in the standard based classroom that focused on scaffolding for student comprehension.
The results of the participants were then compared to the overall results of EOCT. The participants’ results were as well evaluated in terms of state requirements. This aided in understanding the effectiveness of formal testing as well as the impact of the testing of individuals.
To enhance the confidentiality, participants were then accorded code names. They were as well required to sign consent forms to protect their rights for participating in the research. Similarly, the information acquired was stored in a computer database locked by a password.
Since young children do not have an accurate self-assessment as compared to adults and older children, the parents of participants who were younger than twelve years were asked to rate their children’s second language proficiency level. Equally, parents were required to assist their children, who were younger than twelve years old, in answering the questionnaires.
The instrument used to measure performance for language courses was the End of Course Tests (EOCT). This state assessment was administered to the participants towards the end of their junior high school. The tests were administered on-site, gathered by administrators, and presented to the state for scoring. EOCT is aligned with 11th grade literature and composition as well as American literature and composition.
The official purpose of EOCT is to assess individual and group skills and knowledge in core areas of various subjects predominantly English and Language Arts. Application of these detailed research results proved critical in providing relevant information that was applied in identifying leaner’s potential areas within learning institutions.
The survey proved an effectual instrument in this research study. The survey is appropriate in handling events or situations that have already taken place as well as variables with similar characteristics. Survey design aims at observing, explaining, and describing phenomena of interest without influencing the respondents or the variables.
Journal of observations and interviews were applied in addressing participant’s attitude and participation. The journal contained a section of personal opinions collected through self-assessment. Self-assessment aided in differentiating assumptions, facts, and researcher’s personal opinions, thus averting any possible bias. The survey instrument was administered to the participants subsequent to review of the EOCT results.
The survey aimed at measuring learner’s attitudes and participation within the language courses in different institutions. The instruments were pilot tested prior to the commencement of data collection. Based on this, it was determined that there was no requirement of translating questionnaires.
To ensure that observations remained comprehensive and accurate, a research journal, in which all stages of the study were portrayed, was used. The research journal contained interview transcripts as well. Besides the interviews, individual and group meetings were used in the process and transcripts of the meetings incorporated into the research journal.
The meetings helped in obtaining more insight into the participants’ fluency in a second language. Moreover, an observational journal was employed whereby participants’ profile and progress were recorded.
Data collection procedure
Before proceeding with data collection, permission was sought from the pertinent authorities both in the executive and school levels, and from parents and guardians. A request was submitted to the institution’s administration for the purpose of collecting data. Participants received advance notice, between one and four days, that they would be filling questionnaires as well as taking part in interviews.
Otherwise, the comprehensive process of administering the questionnaires and interviews was adhered to as closely as possible. Learners were informed that their responses would not impinge on their course grades, and thus they were requested to answer honestly.
A committee comprising of an administrator, advanced placement coordinator, and researcher was established. During the opening meeting, time lines and rules were set, upon which the entire research was undertaken for a period of 19 weeks. Two tutors were assigned the role of teaching children and adult language courses.
The students involved in the study received both classroom instruction in English using the district curriculum, Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), and interventions that included differentiated instruction and small group tutorials. During the initial phase of the research study, participants had their strengths and weaknesses in second language courses identified.
The CCSSI provided differentiated instruction, a standard-based classroom, and detailed collaboration within the classroom. EOCT was deemed reliable because the test is aligned with the state’s curriculum. The data attained from this test was used as a pre-test in determining students’ academic competence in English courses.
The participants’ growth was quantified through comparison of the students’ data from pre-test and post-test scores as well as the change in scores. Qualitative survey was used to measure individual’s attitudes and participation plus the knowledge of rudimentary English concepts. The survey proved an effectual way of engaging participants’ understanding of the pre-test and post-test performance results.
Validity and reliability of research instruments
Validity refers to the degree to which an instrument is capable of measuring what it ought to measure. It is the meaningfulness and accuracy of inferences that are based on research results. Validity is the extent to which results attained from the data analysis actually represent the phenomenon under study.
If the data obtained is a true reflection of the variables under investigation, then inferences based on the data remain accurate and meaningful. In this context, the research instruments were rated on how effectively they sampled significant aspects of the purpose of study, and fulfilled the study objectives.
In cases where the items in the survey instruments appeared ambiguous to the respondents, they were rectified accordingly. Since the threat of validity would have been posed by the researcher’s background and personal experiences, an external auditor was used for the purposes of validating results.
Reliability refers to the ability of a test to consistently yield similar results when repeated measurements are undertaken in the same study under similar conditions. Reliability is concerned with consistency in the generation of results, and bases on the requirement that the same researcher or another researcher on another occasion is capable of replicating the original research and achieving comparable results.
To curtail the threats to validity and reliability, there was a need to clarify researcher bias and participatory modes of research. Documenting the participants’ actions helped maintain the integrity of the study.
As the initial step in analysis of the data obtained, the reliability of each instrument was determined. Once the questionnaires were administered, filled, and raw data collected, they were analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively.
Quantitative analyses involved the use of logistical regression strategies and retention. Qualitative design incorporated the use of a multiple baseline design that enabled comparison of pre-test and post-test results.
Inferential and descriptive statistics were then employed in analyzing the data. To begin with, the means and standard deviations of the survey instruments were computed. Then, t-tests and variance tests were employed in determining the significance of variation in mean.
In a typical study, much importance lies in taking note of dependent and independent variables for conducting comprehensive statistical analysis. In this study, the independent variable is age while the dependent variable is second language proficiency. Moreover, testing the competencies and analyzing other cognitive factors influencing children and adult’s second language proficiency might be used as independent variables.
Results portray significant differences in the higher versus lower second language proficiency. The large and negative coefficient for age at the onset of second language learning suggests that the older the respondents were at the time of starting learning a second language, the lower the likelihood that they reported a higher as opposed to a lower level of proficiency in a second language.
The positive coefficient for age suggests that the younger the respondents were at the onset of second language learning, the higher the level of proficiency in second language learning.
Summary and discussion
The principal query raised in this study concerns a significant issue in psychology and linguistics is age at the onset of second language learning tied to proficiency in second language learning? The results of this study demonstrate a lucid and strong impact of participants’ ages at the onset of second language learning.
The results of this study portray that there is variability in the proficiency of second language based on the age at onset of second language. Differences in second language proficiency appeared between children and adults. Furthermore, the study revealed that numerous predictors are allied to early versus later acquisition of second language proficiency.
Holding other factors constant, children who start learning second language at an early age portray excellence in second language as compared to their counterpart adults. Children proficiency in second language emerges and grows at a faster rate than in adults. Children who are proficient in second language at an early age start out at comparable levels as the adults but grow slightly faster in these skills over time.
Children who do not portray proficiency in second language at an early age have substantially worse approaches to learning second language both initially and through fifth and eighth grade compared to their counterparts who portray proficiency in second language at an early age, substantially before puberty.
Exposure to second language learning at the kindergarten is associated with a higher likelihood of second language proficiency. Learning second language is a challenge to most people in the global community.
However, knowledge of a second language is important because it enhances communication and promotes international relations. It is easier to learn a second language at an early age than later in life considering the above research.
Furthermore, individuals who are not capable of learning second language early in life may not be able to learn second language later in life too. Therefore, early age is the learning foundation of most people in the global community.
August, D., & Shanahan, T. (2008). Developing reading and writing in second language learners: Lessons from the national literacy panel on language-minority children and youth. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Grigorenko, E. L. (2012). U.S. immigration and education: cultural and policy issues across the lifespan. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
Kerlinger, F. W. (1973). Foundations of behavioral research. New Delhi: Surfeet Publishers.
Mayo, M., & Lecumberri, M. L. (2003). Age and acquisition of English as a foreign language. New York: Multilingual Matters.
Questionnaire on second language learning
The aim of this questionnaire is to find out the relationship between age and the level of proficiency in learning the second language.
|Number of years learning English|
What is your native language?
In which region were you born?
How long did you live there?
What language is most important for the daily life within the country?
If you shifted from your country, at what age did you leave your country?
Do you attend/ have you attended second language classes?
Where did you attend second language classes?
- School/ institution
How long have you attended second language classes?
If you have taken second language course, what kind of course was it?
- Preparation for state examination
- General proficiency
- All the above-mentioned
How would you describe second language teaching within this country?
What is the quality of the education of the country that influences how you learn a second language?
How old were you when you started learning a second language?
How much do you speak, or have spoken the second language?
Describe how you think being young or old has influenced your attitude toward learning a second language?
From this list of language learning items, record how you consider you learn them best
Please indicate the extent to which you agree with these statements:
Ifind it very important to learn my second language
Ifeel confident in my second language
Ilike speaking in my native language
How is your proficiency in your second language at the moment?