Age Factor in Second Language Acquisition


While considering second language acquisition, many factors can affect the successful outcome of a learning process. The age factor is considered among the most evident ones since it affects the effectiveness of an academic process, the teaching approaches, as well as how fast the learners will be able to conceive the material. In this respect, the correlation between age factor and second language acquisition should be explored. Analysis of characteristics of adult learners is indispensable for understanding which pedagogical methodology must be applied to achieve the necessary results. Although, the topic is underexplored, the age factor is among the frequently discussed issues in the context of second language acquisition. Much concern is also connected with the external environment influencing ESL students’ perception.

According to VanSickle and Ferris (n. d.), age factor is considered to be a determinative one since the earlier ESL learners start acquiring a new language, the more chances for them to speed up an academic process. This connection is explained by several unique qualities assigned only to children. In particular, the researchers have found that “a child’s brain is plastic in comparison to that of an adult, and after the age of about 9 years, the brain progressively becomes “stiff and rigid”” (VanSickle & Ferris , n. d., p. 2). Prior to understanding the tangible influence of age on the quality of learning, the attention should also be given to learning styles implemented to a specific age category. At this point, Wintergerst, DeCapua, and Verna (2003), focus on a variety of learning styles that identify groups of learning in terms of ethnic affiliation. These assessment tools are powerful mechanisms for adjusting the existing teaching strategies to a culturally different environment irrespective of age.

Age discrepancies in second language acquisition are essential for understanding different performance strategies. In this respect, Bista (2008), have conducted research studies to define the major variables affecting language learning and defining ESL learner characteristics. Although, age plays an important role in an academic process, the scholar has found that there is no specific pattern of teaching and learning among the students of the same age. Specifically, students belonging to the same age group can learn differently with regard to the learning opportunities, talents, skills and preparedness. The motivation to learn, learning styles and individual differences stand at the core of the second language acquisition.

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The first and second language acquisition could be influenced by age because of the differences in program design for ESL learners of various age categories. In this respect, Singleton and Ryan (2004) argue that, although, there is no general distinction between age and performance, there are still slight differences in certain factors, such as intonation and pronunciation. For instance, ESL learners acquire abilities in pronunciation as soon as they get older. As far as intonation is concerned, the dramatic drop in performance rates is marked among ESL learners under the age of 11 (Singleton & Ryan, 2004). Age-related differences in terms of achievements among ESL learners have provided a new outlook on an academic process. Specifically, it has been reported that younger learners are more successful in gaining the second language. Additionally, older subjects are more understandable for younger students in comparison to younger disciplines. There is also an investigation proving that age “…is an important predictor of success, less success being associated with greater age” (Singleton & Ryan, 2004, p. 70). Further, the research on the aural comprehension has also revealed the evident relation between the second language acquisition and the age among individuals of different age categories. Specifically, the course has revealed that older students experience less success in acquiring aural skills as compared to younger students. On the one hand, it has been stated that older ESL learners are more successful in studying languages, whereas younger learners are less gifted because of lack of awareness. At the same time, the immigrant research shows the evident advantage of older students as well. Therefore, the majority of the studies demonstrate the crucial role of age factor in shaping the results and the findings of the research.

While considering the challenge of ethnic minority, Adesope et al. (2011), have disordered that collaborative reading interventions along with media-assisted techniques have had a positive impact on students’ achievements. The findings also underline the importance of considering students’ cultural and economic background before introducing ESL literary interventions. At the same time, the studies have demonstrated that educators should be encouraged to analyze various school contexts while choosing appropriate pedagogical strategies. What is more important is that the contextual factors in combination with ESL learners’ characteristics can have a potent influence on the effectiveness of these strategies. The discoveries presented by Adesope et al. (2011) are supported by Dadabhai (2007) who also resorts to two major assumptions. First of all, students of the same age do not possess similar abilities and characteristics. In particular, they can have substantial differences in attitudes, believes, skills and knowledge. Secondly, there is no specific pattern of development, which is identified for the age group from 16 to 41 because skills and abilities are acquired by each person in accordance with a highly individual capacity.

Although, age differences within one group can point to different communicative patterns, the age factor will not be as significant as the differences in teaching approaches employed to each individual. In the studies by Ellis, Basturkmen, and Lowen (2002), the focus has been on communicative ESL teaching that makes learner uptake the material successful. The level of uptake was connected with the meaning and teacher-initiated focus on the form of material exposition. Therefore, if the communication flow of the lesson is distorted, the context can affect the amount of uptake. All these considerations are viable in the light of the research because they define the connection between individual perception and classroom interaction. More importantly, the classroom interaction plays the leading role in second language acquisition since it influences the level of understanding and comprehension of the material. This stands in opposition to the classrooms of acquiring the first language.

When it comes to pedagogical practices, three dimensions should be highlighted, namely: cultural, social and psychological. The studies by Felser (2005), discuss the effects of experimental psycholinguistic approaches applied to ESL learners. The scholar is interested in language processes as the leading feature of acquiring the second language. At this point, the experimental psycholinguistic approach of second language processing relies on a number of questions. To begin with, the scheme questions the mechanisms, representations and architectures that highlight the second language processing that differs from the first language acquisition. Further, the researcher is also concerned with the extent to which learners are able to integrate various information resources while processing the second language material. The importance of sociological perspectives in second language acquisition is also enormous because it expands the teachers’ awareness of socio-cultural backgrounds of their ESL learners, kind of constraints they encounter as they apply cultural dimensions into practice. The information was collected from interviews and surveys and high school teachers. These teachers associated with own pedagogical experiences to that of cultural backgrounds of their students. The results have shown that teachers have had an increased awareness of the sensitivity to students’ background experiences. At the same time, the findings have also highlighted the presence of institutional challenges that have a practical influence on teachers’ social and cultural outcomes and practices.

Although, the preference is given to individualistic approaches in teaching the second language, age factor should not be underestimated. In the studies by Singleton and Ryan (2004), the research highlights the experiment which engaged adults, adolescents and children having no experience in acquiring the language chosen for the experiment. Interestingly, the study has confirmed that adults outperformed the other age categories and achieved much greater results in learning the second language (Singleton & Ryan, 2004). In addition, Mayo and Lecumberri (2003), have presented an overview of recent research on the influence of age factor in learning foreign languages to define the importance of this aspect for the quality of an academic process. The researchers also underline a great number of personal factors, including learning style, motivation, aptitude, which vary across age. Age-related research, therefore, affects the level of acquisition of the second language because of greater awareness and experienced possessed by older generations.

In conclusion, it should be stressed that age factor definitely has a massive impact on the quality of second language acquisition in terms of intonation, pronunciation, internal awareness, motivation and aural comprehension. Regardless of the emphasis placed on individual differences, which are considered beyond age, older students are more apt for learning second languages. As such, multiple research studies support the idea that both internal and external environments influence the quality of the teaching strategies designed for students irrespective of age. Apparently, the proposed designs and programs do not fully cover the needs, concerns and peculiarities of teaching students at different ages. Therefore, the correlation between the age of ESL learners and the second language acquisition should come to the forth.

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