Academic journal article Kuram ve Uygulamada Egitim Bilimleri

Early and Late Language Start at Private Schools in Turkey*

Academic journal article Kuram ve Uygulamada Egitim Bilimleri

Early and Late Language Start at Private Schools in Turkey*

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study examines the interaction effect of age in L2 attainment. It explores whether success in foreign language learning at early childhood grades varies depending on age. It also addresses the beliefs of foreign language teachers regarding the variables under review. Eighty-three 11 year-old language learners who started learning English at different ages were placed into two groups. The initial exposure of the early starters was 5-6 and of the late starters, 9-10. A set of language proficiency tests covering all four-language skills were given to the participants to determine the possible differences in the proficiency of the two groups. Also, qualitative data was collected from 6 teachers through a questionnaire that aimed to elicit their beliefs regarding the effect of age on L2 attainment. The findings showed that the early starters did not perform significantly better than the late starters in any of measures. The teachers, however, indicted that the early language learners had more positive attitude towards English compared to the late starters. Findings underscore that language attainment may involve a lot of variables and that early age may not take account of the whole issue.

Key Words

Early Childhood Language Instruction, Age Period, Length of Instruction, Early Starters, Late Starters.

The issue regarding the relationship between age and language learning has both theoretical and practical value. On theoretical ground, it relates to one of the key issues in language acquisition: whether there is a difference between adult and child language acquisition or if Universal Grammar (UG) is still functional for adult second language learners (Mayo & Lecumberri, 2003). Questions like these are of the utmost importance for the researcher of SLA (Long, 2007). On the practical side, however, the age-related issue involves the key decision of when to introduce second language into the classroom settings (Mayo & Lecumberri, 2003), and whether or not it is possible to attain native-like proficiency after a certain age. Such questions fall into the interest range of a large number of people including language planner, language teachers, parents and language learners themselves. The issue has gained an added importance in Turkey owing to Turkey's relatively unsuccessful history of English language teaching. Koru and Akessson (2011), for example, in a study conducted by TEPAV (Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey) reported the results of the English Proficiency Index in which Turkey ranks 43 among 44 countries. The researchers argued that the so- called late introduction of English into language classes is one of the main reasons, among others, for the lack of success in language learning in Turkey. The present research study aims to explore this issue hoping that its findings may cast light on the long-running argument regarding the relationship between age and language learning.

The Earlier, the Better?

The idea that an early introduction of a second language leads to a higher level of language proficiency appears to be accepted around the world (Pufahl, Rhodes, & Christian, 2000). It is assumed that an early start of second language learning provides the time that learners need for the daunting task of learning a second language. Furthermore, early starters are arguably endowed with the ability to "sponge" the new language and become more proficient (Cenoz, 2003; Heighington, 1996). In fact as Torras, Tragant, and García (1997, p. 142) put it, "The younger they are, the more they are like sponges, the more they absorb, the more they retain."

Theoretically, the idea of the supremacy of young learners over late learners is fueled by the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH). Originally proposed for the first language, CPH claims that there is a certain time restriction outside which the learning of a new language becomes difficult, if not impossible. It is argued that the facility for the initial unconscious acquisition of a certain language through exposure disappears after puberty and that learning a foreign language becomes more of a conscious and effortful endeavor afterwards that does not bring the same results (Lennenberg, 1967). …

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