Beyond brain maturation: The critical period hypothesis in second language acquisition revisited

1998 1998

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Abstract (summary)

Past research has found that the younger one is when exposed to a second language (L2) by immigrating to a new country, the more proficient he/she will be in the new language after residing in the country for some years. Many researchers attribute this phenomenon to brain maturation as proposed by the Critical Period Hypothesis without acknowledging possible contributions by either first language (L1) proficiency or language environment. The current experimental lab study assessed subjects' proficiency in both L1 and L2, and the current longitudinal study measured learners' language environment.

The experimental lab study involved 105 adult non-native English speakers who came to the US between ages 3 and 32, and had stayed in the US for at least five years by the time of the experiment. All subjects took an English listening grammaticality judgment test (L2 test), and the 37 native Mandarin speakers took a Mandarin listening grammaticality judgment test (L1 test).

Younger age of arrival predicted better performance on the L2 task, $r = {-}.68,\ p < .001,$ but worse performance on the L1 task, $r = .61,\ p <. 001.$ Better performance on L1 predicted worse performance on L2, $r = {-}.42,\ p < .01.$ Subjects' self-ratings of L1 and L2 proficiency were consistent with the test results. Such a systematic relation between L1 and L2 proficiency suggests a possible role played by L1 in L2 acquisition.

The longitudinal study involves 11 immigrant Mandarin-speaking subjects who arrived in the US between the ages of 5 and 16. Each was interviewed once a month during the first year in the US. Measures of participants' language environments through 88 home interviews and one questionnaire revealed that younger participants were exposed to substantially richer L2 environments and older participants were exposed to substantially richer L1. The study also showed how younger and older subjects created different language environments for themselves based on their different L1 proficiency, social skills and degrees of connections to their native culture.

Age differences in L2 acquisition is strongly influenced by factors other than biological maturation. L1 proficiency and language environment are important determinants of L2 acquisition and its links to age of arrival.

Indexing (details)

Developmental psychology;
Cognitive therapy;
0620: Developmental psychology
0633: Cognitive therapy
0290: Linguistics
Identifier / keyword
Psychology; Language, literature and linguistics; Brain; Critical period hypothesis; Maturation; Second language
Beyond brain maturation: The critical period hypothesis in second language acquisition revisited
Jia, Gisela Xiangdong
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-B 59/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780599049642, 0599049642
Aaronson, Doris; McElree, Brian
New York University
University location
United States -- New York
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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