Critical period for learning language longer than thought

  • A large internet study has concluded that language-learning ability remains strong until about 17-18, however, to achieve native proficiency, you should start before age 10.

It’s long been speculated that there’s a critical period for learning a new language, but the specifics are a matter of debate. It is difficult to follow a sufficient number of language learners through their years of learning. But a new study has got over that difficulty by using the ability of Facebook to get vast numbers of people, who represent many stages of learning.

The study involved a 10-minute quiz on English grammar, after which users were asked to reveal their current age and the age at which they began learning English, as well as other information about their language background. Complete data was received from 669,498 people (both native and non-native English speakers).

Testing a number of computational models to see which was most consistent with the results, the researchers concluded that grammar-learning ability remains strong until age 17 or 18, at which point it drops. This is a much longer period than previously thought.

However, the study also found that it is nearly impossible for people to achieve proficiency similar to that of a native speaker unless they start learning a language by the age of 10. There wasn’t much difference between those who started learning the language at birth and those who began at 10, but if you start learning after 10, you don’t have a long enough time before reaching 18, to achieve the proficiency of native speakers.

It’s not clear, however, that these differences necessarily have to do with physiology. It still may be social or cultural, given that people’s lives customarily change at that age. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of how much time and effort you are able to devote.

The quiz was designed to be entertaining enough to go viral (in which it succeeded!), and included questions that used grammatical rules most likely to trip up a non-native speaker, as well as questions designed to reveal which dialect of English the test-taker speaks (acceptable grammar can vary by dialect).

Do note that this is only about learning to the standard of a native speaker! It emphatically does not mean that you can’t learn a language as an adult!

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-05/miot-csd042718.php

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-05/bc-bwf043018.php

Reference: 

Related News

A small study that fitted 29 young adults (18-31) and 31 older adults (55-82) with a device that recorded steps taken and the vigor and speed with which they were made, has found that those older adults with a higher step rate performed better on memory tasks than those who were more sedentary.

A small study using an artificial language adds to evidence that new vocabulary is learned more easily when the learner uses gestures.

We talk about memory for ‘events’, but how does the brain decide what an event is? How does it decide what is part of an event and what isn’t?

Evidence is accumulating that age-related cognitive decline is rooted in three related factors: processing speed slows down (because of myelin

Here’s an encouraging study for all those who think that, because of age or physical damage, they must resign themselves to whatever cognitive impairment or decline they have suffered.

A small study shows how those on the road to Alzheimer’s show early semantic problems long before memory problems arise, and that such problems can affect daily life.

The relative ease with which children acquire language has produced much debate and theory, mirroring the similar quantity of debate and theory over how we evolved language. One theory of language evolution is that it began with gesture.

A small Swedish brain imaging study adds to the evidence for the cognitive benefits of learning a new language by investigating the brain changes in students undergoing a highly intensive language course.

Back in 2009, I reported briefly on a large Norwegian study that found that older adults who consumed chocolate, wine, and tea performed significantly better on cognitive tests.

Here’s an intriguing study for those interested in how language affects how we think.

Pages

Subscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest health news