What is the association between age and second-language acquisition (SLA)? This paper examines four areas of the literature pertinent to answering this question. Specifically, the paper examines: (1) the empirical findings regarding this association; (2) the typical kinds of research methods use to examine age influences on second language acquisition;
(3) conceptual/theoretical models attempting to explain age effects; and (4) solutions that have been proposed to correct for learning difficulties associated with age.
In general, second language learning appears to be negatively correlated with age. One of the definitive studies in this area was conducted by Jacqueline Johnson and Elisa Newport (1989). The authors decided to study Chinese and Korean speakers who had learned English as a second language.
These two Asian languages were selected because they are less similar to English than European languages. Thus, speakers of both Asian languages would be expected to have difficulty mastering English syntax. All speakers were selected from the students and faculty at the University of Illinois, so they current shared a similar English-speaking environment.
Each research participant was tested extensively for mastery of English grammar. In each case the participant judged whether or not a spoken sentence was grammatically correct. A total of 12 different grammatical rules were tested.
Findings indicated that people who arrived in the United States between 3 and 7 years of age received scores identical to the scores received by native speakers of English. Beyond the age of 7, however, age of arrival had a major impact on test scores. Overall, the data showed a strong negative correlation between age at arrival and grammatical proficiency. The correlation coefficient (f) was -.77, which was highly significant.
The authors also examined whether those who acquired English at an early age had simply spe...