Age as a factor in various theories of Second Language Acquisition

Essay, 2019

7 Pages, Grade: A


Age as a factor in various theories of Second Language Acquisition

Elena Agathokleous 2019

Second language acquisition (SLA) refers to acquiring knowledge as well as the ability to use a second language by individuals who are already users of one other language (Spada and Lightbown 2020: 111). Research in SLA has given attention to age as a factor that affects second language acquisition and comparisons between individuals starting early or at a later age have been made (Hu 2016: 2164, Ellis 2015: 28). On one hand, theories like Chomsky's theory on Universal Grammar (UG) and the monitor theory support that language faculty in children is innate and consists of the possession of a language acquisition device for the processing of language which facilitates language acquisition for a critical period and it is not available to older learners thus favoring younger learners in second language acquisition, (Lightbown and Spada 2020: 112-113 & Palea & BO$TINÄ-BRATU 2015: 429). On the other hand theories like cognitive psychology and socio-cultural theories favor older learners which are more able to practice and pay attention in a process of intentional learning in which no special brain devices or structures are considered necessary (Lightbown and Spada 2020: 113­14). In other views, interactionist perspectives assume that most of SLA occurs in naturalistic settings, through interaction in which interlocutors adjust their speech to facilitate communication and socio-cultural perspectives which also assume that there is much connection between culture and mind and a collective language knowledge is needed so that every learner can then internalize it individually (Lightbown and Spada 2020: 115-117).

Research on SLA is important because it gives information on the mechanics behind language acquisition but also because it can provide valuable input on better teaching practices and policies in order to make L2 teaching and learning more effective (Spada and Lightbown 2020: 111). Theories of Second Language Acquisition have given new perspectives on how children and how adults respond to SLA taking into consideration the learners age as the decisive factor including the cognitive changes and the social development that occur with age (Palea & BO§TINÄ-BRATU 2015: 428). Through these theories the age factor is increasingly becoming one of the most influential factors in second language learning when comparing young and adult learners in terms of ultimate proficiency (Hu 2016: 2164, Ellis 2015: 28). Studying the age factor can be proven challenging not only because of the many other factors that differ between learners but also because this research seems to be focused on naturalistic settings, somewhat overlooking formal learning settings but even so applied to them with no true evidence that it applies.

As Munoz states, most SLA research on the age factor was carried out in natural settings focusing on immigrants' proficiency in the second language in relation to the age they arrived in the L2 speaking environment, and it has been found that those arriving at a younger age achieve a higher proficiency (Munoz 2010: 40). This shows that there is a reasonable basis behind the notion of the Critical Period Hypotheses where young learners in possession and use of the LAD behave as better learners (Munoz 2010: 40). Most often, immigrant children have been found to possess more knowledge and skill in the second language than their parents especially when it comes to the production of language however there are also examples of adults which reach a high level of proficiency in areas of vocabulary, syntax, and effective communication (Lightbown & Spada 2019: 92). However comparing adults to children in terms of acquiring language might be proven more complicated since there are various other factors involved besides age (Lightbown & Spada 2019: 93). Learners can differ in biological factors or in the way they are learning the language and very often time availability is different especially between adults and children (Lightbown & Spada 2019: 93). Another important difference is that children often don't get corrected and are more relaxed when using the language in contrast to adults who may feel pressure to use the language correctly and fluently (Lightbown & Spada 2019: 93). When younger learners begin to learn the language they are reinforced positively and their mistakes are given little attention or are even overlooked unlike adults who need to communicate in higher and more complex language levels where expression of more complicated ideas is needed (Lightbown & Spada 2019: 94). For an adult with no perfect mastery of the second language feelings of inadequacy or embarrassment may lead to frustration and eventually unwillingness to use the language (Lightbown & Spada 2019: 94).

The CPH hypothesis has been researched greatly in naturalistic contexts and it has also influenced learning environments and following research in instructional settings (Munoz 2010: 39). However, unlike CPH, age as a factor in an environment of a foreign language and not the second language in question hasn't had the same research attention and any assumptions made are based on former research in naturalistic contexts but even so they have affected educational policies in schools and other formal learning environments (Munoz 2010: 40). While there is this difference of environments, educators and policy makers decided on second language education starting at young ages even though other research indicates that in instructional settings older learners are found to be more efficient than younger learners since they possess and use various strategies, meta-linguistic knowledge and problem solving skills to aid their learning and progress more (Lightbown & Spada 2019: 94). Studies have also found that starting second language learning at primary school does not guarantee greater proficiency in the future in comparison to learners who begin learning in adolescence or even older learners who achieve excellence in the second language (Lightbown & Spada 2019: 94).


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Age as a factor in various theories of Second Language Acquisition
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Elena Agathokleous (Author), 2019, Age as a factor in various theories of Second Language Acquisition, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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