Age-Related Factors in Second Language Acquisition Charles William Twyford COMSIS Corporation Introduction Substantial interest surrounds

the question of how age affects second language acquisition. This is a particularly intriguing question for educators who must develop appropriate curricula and instructional strategies for refugee and immigrant children of different ages who are entering our schools. nfortunately! too little is "nown about language acquisition in general to allow us to say definitively that # or $ ma"es acquisition easy at one age or difficult at another. %owever! the convergence of several lines of psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic theory and research suggest possible e&planations for age'related influences on language acquisition that language educators should ta"e into account. The purpose of this discussion is to focus on several variables that have been shown to be age'sensitive in the process of second language acquisition. ( word of caution is necessary at the outset) generali*ations about the relationship of age and language acquisition are treacherous for two obvious reasons. +irst! people of the same age do not share all the same characteristics. We can spea" of a typical si&'year'old or an average fifteen'year'old! but we have to "eep in mind that a norm or an ideal may be as much fiction as fact in the real world. (mong people of the same age! differences in attitudes! aptitudes! "nowledge! and s"ills ma"e sweeping generali*ations about learners elusive. Second! there is no uniform pattern of development that everyone follows. ,ven if we could say that everyone eventually achieves certain characteristics! it is clear that there is no common route to be followed. -nowledge and s"ill are acquired by each of us according to a highly individual map. Cognitive Development .iaget has shown how human cognitive development is achieved through maturational stages! with our thought processes and patterns changing systematically as we age. %e has also influenced the way we understand the stages of language development as part of more comple& cognitive development. +or e&ample! .iaget /01234 distinguished between 5egocentric5 and 5sociali*ed5 speech in children. When he watched five'and si&'year'olds wor"ing and playing together! he noticed that their communication often resembled monologues. The children tal"ed! but without much notice of who was listening. They would answer their own questions without waiting for someone else to answer! and often several children would tal" simultaneously in what .iaget called 5collective monologues.5 Children seem unable to engage in sustained sociali*ed speech until they move out of what .iaget calls the preoperational stage of cognitive development and into the concrete operational stage. This shift! which normally occurs around age si& or seven! finds children outgrowing their inability to focus on more than a single aspect of a situation! or a single point of view! and beginning to consider relationships. (t that point they begin to consider the need to communicate differently with different audiences''to ta"e the listener6s point of view into account. 7iven this pattern in child language development! it should not be surprising that educators have greater success redirecting the language behavior of 8' to 02'year'olds than 9 to :'year'olds /Collier! 018:4. (lthough this younger group has no trouble learning a second language in natural settings! they do seem to be slower to respond to formal language instruction in school than older learners. It can be e&pected that as they move into the stage of cognitive development that permits sociali*ed speech! their openness to educational intervention will increase.

In this section! some aspects of this sociocultural influence will be analy*ed in an attempt to further clarify sources of age'related variance in language acquisition. The relationship of language acquisition to cognitive development may be one source! then! of the 5age differences5 researchers have found among language learners.ust on themselves. Conscious awareness of language ma"es it possible for children to thin" about the appropriateness of what they and others say and to segment language into units '' a necessary step for learning to read. Specifically! the e&periences a child has with language at home and in the community may have a lot to do with later success in school and may be age'related. This advantage for older learners often flip'flops as the natural acquisition strategies of younger learners become more powerful.(round this same age! middle childhood! children develop a conscious awareness of language that allows them to thin" about it! . The onset of this awareness! coinciding with other advances in cognitive development! appears to be at! least partly responsible for the boundary that researchers have found between early childhood and middle childhood for purposes of school language acquisition. Sociocultural Context The previous discussion of cognitive factors focuses on the natural! innately'determined blossoming of cognitive and linguistic capabilities that all normal children e&perience. Only when conscious "nowledge is called for! as in monitoring tas"s that require grammatical analyses /-rashen! 01::! 01::a! 01:84! do older learners "eep a long'term advantage over younger learners.udge it! and manipulate it much as adults do. (t this stage! new concepts normally derive from verbal rather than concrete e&perience /(usubel and (usubel! 01:0! p. Instructional strategies which are popular in formal classroom settings are more li"ely to fit the cognitive abilities of older children! creating an advantage in rate of acquisition for older children over younger ones. This new awareness of language corresponds to a general cognitive 5decentering5 /+lavell! 01::4 that children e&perience as they begin to step bac" and reflect on situations rather than . =oo"ing at the sociocultural conte&t of language acquisition! however! one can find evidence that a child6s environment nurtures and shapes his or her ability to use language. <ecause of their conscious awareness of language and ability to formali*e linguistic rules! older learners can outperform younger learners in the early stages of language acquisition! especially in production tas"s /spea"ing and writing4. 334. <y being alert to the cognitive variables active in the children who enter any classroom! educators can base instruction on what the individual learners are ready to accomplish. This advantage! related to conscious language learning and not natural language acquisition /-rashen! 01::4! helps e&plain the initial advantage for older learners that many researchers have found.ects. The ability to manipulate abstract linguistic categories and to formali*e rules and concepts is an additional aid for language acquisition. >ot only is there the general . ( similar developmental boundary occurs around the time of adolescence! when the 5formal operations5 stage of cognitive development begins! allowing a "ind of abstract thin"ing not tied to e&perience with concrete ob. Shirley <rice %eath! an ethnographer at Stanford niversity! ma"es the following observation about schooling and language development) Strangely enough! though the common e&pectation is that the school prepares the young for life in the 5real world5 gradually and with compassion! school personnel rarely recogni*e that some fundamental notions that lie behind the language arts curriculum represent harsh demands for language minority children.

nglish! but also the assumption that they have internali*ed before they start to school the norms of language used in academic life /%eath! 0183! p. ( restricted code relies on 5gestures! intonations! and verbal metaphor5 to e&press many meanings that could be verbali*ed! particularly attitudes toward the addressee such as respect and familiarity /<ernstein! 01:2! p.54@ 9. If this were the case! the success of compensatory education would be easier to achieve than it is. %e points to the mismatch between teachers6 e&pectations and students6 bac"grounds as a cause of many students6 failure in schools! especially big city schools. They will also ma"e more le&ical distinctions and put more of their intent into words. Some children develop this ability at home and bring it to school@ others''but not all others ''intuit it in school from models presented by teachers! te&tboo"s! and peers. /The dichotomy is roughly equivalent to Cummins6 D0189E distinction between 5conte&t'embedded5 and 5conte&t'reduced5 language. Some theorists /for e&ample! Cummins! 01804 argue that schooling an immigrant child in his or her native language for a few years will allow the child to develop language'for'school s"ills that can be transferred to a second language. se of language to label and describe the ob. se of language to sustain and maintain the social interactions of the group /5If you want to use the scissors! Benny! as" Tammy politely. This is an important point because it can easily be assumed that the difference between a five'year'old who cannot do the things with language that %eath has listed and an eight'year'old who can do these things is simply schooling) e&posure to and practice with deconte&tuali*ed language! not lin"ed to the here'and'now.ects! events! and information that non' intimates present them /5Can anyone tell me today6s date?54@ 2.e&pectation that all children will learn to spea" .0984. . The ability to use language in these ways is arguably a prerequisite to success in school! but it is not e&plicitly taught in school.0984.54@ C. <ritish sociolinguist <asil <ernstein /01:24 is less optimistic than Cummins about the 5automatic5 benefits of schooling for language development. se of language to obtain information from non'intimates /5Why didn6t you as"?54@ 3. nfortunately! this view can be misinterpreted to mean that being in school at the right age is by itself productive for developing language s"ills for school. se of language to recount or recast past events or information shared with or given by non'intimates in a predictable order and format /5Where have we heard this term before?54@ A. se of language on appropriate occasions to account for one6s unique e&periences! to lin" these to generally "nown ideas or events! and to create new information or to integrate ideas in innovative ways /5My uncle has geese on his farm@ I could bring some feathers5 ' said in a science discussion of the effects of goose down.4 /%eath! 0183! p.4 Spea"ers of an elaborated code will choose from a wider range of syntactic possibilities to convey a message than will spea"ers of a restricted code /<ernstein! 01:24. %eath summari*es si& uses of language that schools normally e&pect children to have mastered before schooling begins) 0. +ollowing directions from oral and written sources without needing sustained personal reinforcement from adults or peers /5=et6s get ready for lunch. The teachers! as well as the school systems they function in! devalue the patterns of language use which are common in many language minority homes and in (merican wor"ing class families! but these patterns are not always successfully replaced. +or more than 2C years! <ernstein has been developing a theory of language use based on the dichotomy of 5restricted5 and 5elaborated5 codes.

.ects! who were C'to 0C'year'old immigrants! 8' to 00'year' olds outperformed C' to :'year'olds and 02' to 0C' year'olds in acquiring .ority children retreat into restricted code usage whenever possible! even to the e&clusion of their parents. If this is so! it follows that 9' to :'year'old immigrant children! . (n elaborated code will arise wherever the culture or subculture emphasi*es the 5I5 over the 6we65 /<ernstein! 0182! p.93:4. Comparatively poor performance by these children in an elaborated . These factors have been hypothesi*ed to be partially responsible for the differences between children and adults in language acquisition /see Schumann! 01:84. %ow might code preference be age'related and affect the course of language acquisition? Collier /018:4 found that among her sub.nglish code should be no surprise. nless schools can brea" through code'preference barriers with immigrants more successfully than they have with other language minority students! including wor"ing'class whites! other sources will continue to be needed to support the schools6 efforts to facilitate language acquisition and academic achievement.ust beginning school! and . Similarly! Collier6s 02' to 0C'year'olds were in that sensitive adolescent period in which even language ma. %owever! when teachers can guide language minority students toward more elaborated code usage! these students will reap the same benefit as language ma.ffective schools have curricula and teachers who are sensitive to this need. On the other hand! even . In summary! it cannot be assumed that older learners who perform better than younger learners in school are doing so because they have been in school longer. <oth sources are lin"ed to age! but no one can assume that certain things are automatically happening in a learner6s cognitive or sociocultural development . The same is true for two additional variables often lin"ed to age) affective factors and language input.nglish.nglish! would be unli"ely to produce elaborated' code utterances in a relatively unfamiliar language.. ( ma.. Affective Factors The two previous sections have analy*ed two possible sources of age'related variance in language acquisition) cognitive development and sociocultural conte&t.ust starting to learn . 9:34.ust venturing into a new culture! . If her sub. Such motivation would be absent from young children! and this absence might account for their slower language acquisition in school. . Festricted'code discourse is not fully intelligible to audiences who do not share the spea"er6s cultural bac"ground /home! ethnic identity! intellectual interests4. Older learners! for e&ample! are more li"ely to feel the need to learn a language for economic survival /adults4 or for academic success /adolescents4 and thus wor" harder in school. (ffective factors include motivation! an&iety! self'confidence and other characteristics that might affect a person6s attitude toward learning.or function of schools is to give students familiarity and practice with the use of an elaborated code for both learning and self' e&pression. Thus a restricted code emerges where the culture or subculture raises the 6we6 above 6I6. This is not the case with elaborated'code messages! where verbal means are more fully employed to ma"e the message e&plicit and clear to any audience.ority students do who shift from restricted to elaborated code) they will succeed in school. <ernstein traces code preference to cultural and subcultural patterns) 5( restricted code will arise where the form of the social relation is based upon closely shared identifications! upon an e&tensive range of shared e&pectations! upon a range of common assumptions. Their relationship to age as a predictor of overall language learning success is not clear! but some relationship is evident.ust because a certain age has been reached.ects represented the (sian and %ispanic groups that most immigrant children are part of! it is li"ely that their families and peers usually used a restricted code! rather than an elaborated one.

84. .though young learners may lac" such e&trinsic motivation! they might succeed as they do in natural acquisition settings because of their intrinsic motivation to participate fully with their peers /7ardner and =ambert! 01:24. In spite of their lower an&iety! younger learners from restricted'code bac"grounds may be less li"ely to pro.eople who tal" with very young children automatically simplify input and use concrete language! common to restricted codes. Most language minority children will not feel comfortable as"ing for the "inds of clarifications necessary to get comprehensible input. Older learners from many language minority bac"grounds stand to perform with more self'confidence than younger learners in a language class because of the e&tent to which age influences their assertiveness in the face of authority. Older learners may receive less help and may have to intervene on their own behalf to clarify the input. (lthough the native spea"er simplified language spo"en to the younger learners! the older learners were more adept at managing the conversation to obtain more comprehensible input) they signaled their understanding better@ they were more successful in "eeping the conversation going@ and they changed the conversation topic more proficiently. . The an&iety barrier might e&plain why older learners! including adolescents li"e those in Collier6s /018:4 study! are less successful at school language acquisition than middle'childhood learners. C2'CA4. Scarcella and %iga /01824 report an e&perimental study which compared child and adolescent second language learners who interacted with a native spea"er on a bloc" building tas". Self'confidence may also wor" as a filter or barrier. This hesitancy on the part of young restricted'code users to assert 5I5 over 5we!5 as <ernstein points out! does not improve one6s chance for success in an (merican school.ect their own identity and try a more elaborated code than older learners are who have had to learn to do so for ban"ing! shopping! and other community involvements.ase in acquiring a second language has also been lin"ed to a low level of an&iety /See Gulay! <urt! and -rashen! 0182! pp. Self'conscious teenagers6 fear of failing or loo"ing and sounding foolish may create an affective filter that bloc"s performance of which they would be capable in a rela&ed state. This puts these children at a clear disadvantage when compared to older learners and learners from elaborated'code bac"grounds where e&plicitness and the search for it are valued. -rashen believes that the ability to obtain comprehensible input may increase with age! giving older learners an advantage over younger ones. Older learners from restricted'code bac"grounds clearly have an advantage over younger learners in input management because their cultural bac"ground permits them to be more assertive and interactive. Language Input ( final source of variance in language acquisition to be discussed here as age'related is the nature of the language samples themselves which are presented to the learner as input for the acquisition process. %arley /01834 reviews a number of input studies in her analysis of age in second language acquisition and cites -rashen6s assertion that 5natural comprehensible input has become 6the fundamental principle6 in second language acquisition5 /-rashen!0180! p. .

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