People have developed several misconceptions about the ability to acquire a second language, where, children are said to be at a better position to acquire a second language as compared to adults (Felser & Clahsen 2009). While the allegation could be true, it may not apply to all individuals. In essence, an adult can easily learn a second language depending on the complexity of the language and the level of interest. Grosjean (2002) indicates that language learning ability decreases with age, and the question is the reason behind the decrease in the ability to acquire a second language over time.
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This research will seek to answer various unanswered questions in people’s minds—the specific aims of the dissertation areas listed below.
- To examine the relationship between second language acquisition and age.
- To determine the factors behind the difference in language acquisition abilities across different age spectrums (2-8 years, 9-19 years, above 20 years)
- To identify the age spectrum during which an individual can acquire and master a second or third language easily.
- To identify the approaches that individuals across all age spectrums can employ to acquire a second or third language easily.
This research will bring a clear light of the various hypotheses on second language acquisition and age. The research will give a critical analysis of the “Critical Period Hypothesis” (CPH); a sensitive period during which an individual easily learns and masters a language. According to Muñoz & Singleton (2011), as people age, there are natural maturational constraints that reduce their ability to acquire a second language. However, the ability or inability to acquire a second language is not restricted to age factors alone. Factors like native language proficiency levels somewhat determine the ability to acquire a second language. An individual with difficulties in acquiring the first language may find it difficult to acquire a second language (Davies 2003). Finally, the article concludes that the association between age and second language acquisition is loosening, and thus, researchers have an obligation to shed light on the allegations and give insights that are more accurate than the existing ones.
This dissertation on the relationship between age and second language acquisition is related to various past researches. Burns & Helman’s (2009) report is based on the findings of research done on English language learners’ (2nd-grade students). These students were learning English as a second language, and the researchers sought to find the proficiency levels of the different students across various age spectrums. The research findings indicated that there was a significant difference in English proficiency levels across various age spectrums. In Felser & Clahsen’s (2006) work, there is a clear indication of the dyslexia condition that is associated with the brain’s response to violations of the steps of attaining the second language. According to the article, an individual will have abnormal difficulties in acquiring, reading, or even spelling out words of a second language if the instructor employs the wrong procedures in teaching the second language.
This dissertation will draw its discussion from various works. Huang & Snedecker’s (2009) work will provide a semantic meaning of the language of children aged about 5-8 years. The article will help in bringing a clear explanation of how children in the mentioned age group comprehend language. Hawkins’ (2001) work will give a clear outlay of the impaired students and their ability to acquire language with the help of assistive technology and universal designs. Zhou & Crain’s (2010) work will seek to address the child as a powerful individual who has the capability to accept or reject the acquisition of a second language. Finally, Fabbro’s (2001) work will explain the multi-competence levels of language acquisition across various age spectrums. The mentioned references are very important, as they will address the objectives of the dissertation. Additionally, the bibliographical references will give a clear insight into all the existing hypotheses on second language acquisition and age.
Structured description of the dissertation proposal
There is a debate on the topic, Relationship between Second Language Acquisition and Ages of Specific Spectrums. Some researchers claim that indeed, there is a correlation between the acquisition of a second language and age, while others oppose the allegation. Therefore, there are two main null hypotheses that need some stringent analysis.
H0: Adults do not have a higher ability to acquire a second language as compared to children.
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H0: Older children (9-19 years) cannot acquire a second language more easily than younger children (2-8 years) can.
A detailed study of previous literature will give a clear insight into the disparities of the hypotheses and the previously mentioned specific aims of the dissertation proposal. In the literature review, secondary data from previous studies indicate that indeed, there is a relationship between Second Language Acquisition and across different age ranges (Doughty & Long 2003).
Introduction/ literature review
Several researchers have tried to explain the relationship between second language acquisition and age. The common perception across various researches is that younger children learn a second language with ease as compared to older children and adults (Flege & Liu 2001). However, individuals learn and master a second language during a sensitive period, also known as the Critical Hypothesis Period (CHP). The younger children (below eight years), adolescents (9-19 years), and adults (above 20 years) have different second language acquisition levels due to the differences in syntactic and morphological developments (DeKeyser 2000). During the early stages of acquiring a second language, adults tend to develop syntactic and morphological understanding faster than younger children do, but not as fast as the older children do (Francis 2009). The adults’, (above 20 years), minds are preoccupied with the demanding life situations, and thus their concentration levels are somewhat low as compared to the adolescents whose fresh minds can grasp a second language with ease (Hawkins 2001). In acquiring a second language, the accent of the first language is likely to determine the age at which an individual would become proficient in the second language (Curtiss 2007).
Moreover, another factor that determines the acquisition level of a second language is the time of exposure. Individuals who are exposed to a second language at an early age are likely to portray higher acquisition and proficiency levels as compared to individuals who encounter the second language in adulthood. The age spectrum during which an individual can acquire and master a second or third language easily is 9-19 years (Ellis 2004). However, other factors other than age that determine the ability to acquire a second language. The concentration level is what brings the difference in the ability to acquire a new language between small children (2-8 years) and adults (above 20 years). Adolescents are in the best position to acquire a second language. The fresh minds, higher maturity levels and the interest to learn a second language places older children at a better position acquire the second language with ease. The interest to learn is the foremost approach to language acquisition (Gullberg & Indefrey 2006). Secondly, attention is another factor that would determine the ability to acquire a second language. It is quite difficult to control the concentration level of small children (2-8 years); however, adults should try as much as possible to maintain the highest level of concentration to acquire and master a second language.
Statement of the problem
From the above literature, it is noteworthy that indeed, there are disparities of ideas on the relationship between acquisition of the second language and across different age spectrums. There are uncertainty and dissatisfaction of the current knowledge on the relationship between second language acquisition and age. For this reason, the dissertation will take a stringent analysis of the available literature to find answers to the main objectives, the mentioned hypotheses, and the research question.
This dissertation will seek to answer one research question, “is there a relationship between second language acquisition and the different age spectrums?”
This dissertation will mainly depend on secondary data. The data will be retrieved from theories of previous researches. Therefore, there will be a need to search for trustworthy resources from reliable libraries. Academic abstracts will receive more attention than commercial abstracts. A peer-reviewed journal, bibliographic databases, and internet search engines will play a critical role in obtaining the right information. For comparison purposes, a cross-reference table will be necessary to correlate and view data from different perspectives.
Data collection and sampling
From the diversified data sources, study samples will comprise of materials with the similarity of data.
Since the whole exercise involves the use of secondary data, an ordinary MS Excel spreadsheet package would work perfectly in doing some simplified analysis of data.
Expected work schedule
The research is expected to take a period of 2 months, and the activities are as scheduled below.
Week 1: Clearance from the supervisor to proceed with the study
Week 2: Researching on the relevant literature
Week 3: Writing the first draft
Week 4: Submitting draft to the supervisor for approval
Week 5: Working on the remaining chapters
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Week 6: Receive feedback from lecturer and fixing the draft accordingly
Week 7: Analysis of data, and completing the final draft
Week 8: Final revisions, proofreading, printing, binding, and submitting the research report.
Expected research outcomes
From the literature in the reference materials, it is noteworthy that age spectrums truly have an effect on the naturalistic acquisition of the second language. Studies indicate that adolescents, (aged 9-19 years), have the highest level of acquisition of a second language. The second on the list are the adults (above 20 years), and lastly, children, (below eight years), have the lowest acquisition level. With this in mind, there is a possibility of rejecting the first null hypothesis. Indeed, adults have a higher ability to acquire a second language as compared to children. The concentration level of the adults is higher than that of the children whose minds are swayed with the happenings in the surrounding. Similarly, the second null hypothesis would be rejected because older children (9-19 years) have the capability of acquiring a second language more easily than younger children (2-8 years) do.
Burns, M & Helman, L 2009, ‘Relationship between language skills and acquisition rate of sight words among English language learners’, Literacy Research and Instruction, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 221-232.
Curtiss, S 2007, Genie: A psycholinguistic study of a modern-day ‘wild child,’ Academic Press, New York.
Davies, A 2003, The native speaker: Myth and reality, Multilingual Matters Ltd, Clevedon.
DeKeyser, R 2000, ‘The robustness of critical period effects in second language acquisition’, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, vol. 22, no.4, pp 499–533.
Doughty C & Long, M 2003, Handbook of second language acquisition, Blackwell, London.
Ellis, R 2004, The study of second language acquisition, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Fabbro, F 2001, The neurolinguistics of bilingualism: An introduction, Psychology Press, Hove.
Felser, C & Clahsen H 2009, ‘Grammatical processing of spoken language in child and adult language learners’, Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, vol. 38, no. 3, pp 305–319.
Flege, J & Liu H 2001, ‘The effect of experience on adults’ acquisition of a second language’, Studies in Second Language Acquisition vol. 23, no. 4, pp 527–552.
Francis, W 2009, ‘Cognitive integration of language and memory in bilinguals: Semantic representation’, Psychological Bulletin, vol. 125, no. 2, pp 193–222.
Grosjean, F 2002, Life with two languages, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
Gullberg M & Indefrey P 2006, The cognitive neuroscience of second language acquisition, Blackwell Publishing, Malden, MA.
Hawkins, R 2001, Second language syntax: A generative introduction. Blackwell Oxford.
Huang, Y & Snedecker, J 2009, ‘Semantic meaning and pragmatic interpretation in five-year olds: Evidence from real time spoken language comprehension’, Developmental Psychology, vol. 45, no. 6, pp 1723-1739.
Muñoz, C & Singleton, D 2011, ‘A critical review of age-related research on L2 ultimate attainment’, Language Teaching, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 1-35.
Zhou, P & Crain S 2010, ‘Focus identification in Child Mandarin’, Journal of Child Language, vol. 37, no. 1, pp 965-1005.