Age effects in second language learning

Authored by: Robert DeKeyser

The Routledge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415479936
eBook ISBN: 9780203808184
Adobe ISBN: 9781136666896

10.4324/9780203808184.ch27

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Abstract

Age effects in first and second language learning are a well-known phenomenon. Any layperson is familiar with stories of immigrant families where, after a few years, the children speak like native speakers of the same age while the parents keep being recognized as non-natives for the rest of their lives. The popular press has also familiarized many with the concept of “feral children,” raised in circumstances of extreme neglect, and unable to become full-fledged speakers of any language after being rescued from their situation at an age beyond which first language learning (L1) is largely complete under normal circumstances (see, e.g., Benzaquén, 2006; Rymer, 1992). As is often the case, the media have promoted simplistic implications of these phenomena, such as a presumed impossibility of adults becoming highly skilled in a second language (L2) and the presumed ability of elementary school programs to instill a high level of L2 skill in all children, thus making it seem that age is the one and only determinant of success at language learning.

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