Critical Periods for Language Learning

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This week I was particularly interested in a concept from the reading regarding the idea that there is a critical period for learning a second language. The age and or developmental stage at which you learn a language determines the parts of the brain that are later in life used to speak that language. The reading mentions a study done on critical periods for language learning involving testing of immigrants' grammatical skills. Results of the study identify that the highest overall language proficiency is held by immigrants whom arrived between the ages of one and seven, after which proficiency gradually begins to decline. The study also goes on to state that "Syntax and pronunciation are more vulnerable to effects of the age of exposure than is vocabulary" (Lilienfeld 294). I think that this concept is important because of many reasons including immigrant accents, and overall ability to fully learn a second language, which are personal attributes that are prone to judgment in today's society. This concept applies to my life because I immigrated to America at the age of six, and was able to learn and have enough exposure to the English language prior to this conceptual age seven cut-off. As far as I believe, I don't have an accent and can easily shift between two languages utilizing proper pronunciation, but my parents, who learned English at a much older age, cannot.

In this relative video, Norman Doidge, an author, psychiatrist, and researcher, speaks about the plasticity of the brain, and gives his reasoning behind why it gets harder to learn a second language at later stages in life. He doesn't necessarily agree with the concept of critical learning periods. He states that "It is hard to learn a second language not because the critical period for learning is over, but because we are truly getting better and better at our first language the older we get." I found it interesting that he particularly touches on the notion of accents in explaining that "Our brains are too rigid," and that accents result from the brain's competitive nature leading to "The more over learned activity (one's first language/familiarity with that language's pronunciation) always winning." Reflecting on the reading's concept in mix with Doidge's perspective, I wonder if studies have been done on how strong of a correlation there is (if one exists) between vocabulary recognition/ability to guess correct definitions of unfamiliar words and bilingual individuals.

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This page contains a single entry by khosa003 published on October 23, 2011 11:46 PM.

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