Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

An Empirical Study on Age Variable

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

An Empirical Study on Age Variable

Article excerpt


Age is a very important variable in second language acquisition. For years, the effect of age in SLA (second language acquisition) is a disputable topic in the field of linguistics. However, the dispute focuses more on theoretical basis rather than the research of substantial evidence. Therefore, we have made a quantitative survey on the students' scores (11 times) from junior 1 to senior 2 (5 years) in the middle school by analyses between those (over 30 students) who have learned English for 3 years in the primary school and those (about 400 students) who have not. Finally we come to the conclusion that the idea of "the younger, the better" in FLL (foreign language learning) should be doubted.

Key words: Age variable; CPH; Optimal age


Concerning the problem of starting age in learning a foreign language or when to start a second language course in primary school, there is been no agreement in the past 50 years in the world, and there is no satisfactory conclusion drawn from the three stages of heated discussion in 1980s, 1990s and at the beginning of the 21st century in China, either.

As to this problem, a quantitative survey has been made on the students' scores (11 times) from junior grade 1 to senior grade 2 (5 school years) in a middle school by analyses between those (over 30 students) who had learned English for 3 years in a primary school and those (about 400 students) who had not in China. The paired sample T-test of SPSS has been made to check all the descriptive statistics of the two groups of data to make sure if there are any significant differences between them, by doing so we can arrive at the empirical conclusion that whether or not there are any correlations between age and scores of foreign language learners. There followed by some directly aimed explanations and summaries in details below each table and figure, it aims at drawing some conclusions from the analyses of the scores so as to test the research results on the problem we have gained both at home and abroad.

The function of age in the process of second language acquisition (SLA) has been a disputable topic for many years. Some works on this topic have already been published while there are only a few papers about it appeared in different academic journals in China. Therefore, in order to develop and improve the construction of the discipline of SLA in China, something must be done to strengthen the research in this field.


Critical period refers to the period (i.e. up to a certain age) during which learners can acquire an L2 easily and achieve native-speaker competence, but that after this period L2 acquisition becomes more difficult and is rarely entirely successful. Researchers differ over when this critical period comes to an end (Ellis, p. 699). Neurophysiologists W. Penfield and L. Robert first put forward this viewpoint in 1959, emphasizing that the starting age of foreign language learners should be from 4 to 10 years old in ordinary schools according to the demands of brain psychology. And in the 1960s Lenneberg developed it and put forward the famous "critical period hypothesis" (CPH) in 1967 that natural language learning only took place between the ages of 2 and 13 or so (before puberty). Although the theory of CPH refers to mother tongue and tested by many other psychologists and linguists yet they expanded it to the learning of foreign languages, therefore, coming to the two kinds of prediction: the first is that a foreign language, especially oral speech, must be learned before the completion of the brain lateralization for language function. The second is that the speed of language learning will be slower and the rate of success reduced much when passing this period.

1.1 Abroad

1) Burstall made a ten-year experiment (1964-1974) in Britain. The results were: the FLES (foreign language in elementary school) is OK there. The students who has not taken part in the experiment but began to learn French at the age of 11 had better results than those who had done it at the age of 8, when graduating from middle schools. …

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