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Subject: Child Language Acquisition & Difficulty of the Language
Question: Hello, There seems to be agreement that some languages are more difficult to learn as a second language. But I'm wondering if children born into environments where the more ''difficult'' languages are spoken take longer to achieve a certain level of linguistic competency (acquire vocabulary or master the syntax). I read on one of your FAQ's that it does take children longer to learn to pronounce, for example, words that have multiple consonants in a row. But I'm curious about comparative learning rates other aspects of language. Thank you very much.
Reply: As my colleagues have indicated, first language acquisition happens in roughly the same stages so that children tend to reach a certain level of basic fluency at about the same age (there is always variation between children, even in the same language) There are also many cases where children exposed to two very different languages reach equal proficiency in both. This has been documented across many languages by researchers. Having said that, there is an order of how items are acquired. To take phonology for instance, less marked sounds are generally acquired before more more marked sounds. That's why English children will learn consonant clusters later. Consonant clusters are also comparatively rarer across languages. Finally, if you believe that your first languages affect language acquisition later in life (and many linguists believe it does have an impact), then you will expect that some languages will seem more difficult. Thus, a language is difficult IN RELATION TO SOME OTHER LANGUAGE. For instance, Chinese is considered difficult for English speakers (and English is also considered difficult for Chinese speakers). However, someone speaking a language with tones may find Chinese tones easier to understand, so Chinese would be less difficult for that person. Consider also that any East Asian language speakers will likely recognize many Chinese words borrowed into their language much as English speakers can recognize French or Italian loan words. Hope this makes sense.
Reply From: Elizabeth J Pyatt      click here to access email
Date: 21-Aug-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Child Language Acquisition & Difficulty of the Language    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (21-Aug-2013)
  2. Re: Child Language Acquisition & Difficulty of the Language    Susan D Fischer     (21-Aug-2013)
  3. Re: Child Language Acquisition & Difficulty of the Language    Marilyn N Silva     (21-Aug-2013)
  4. Re: Child Language Acquisition & Difficulty of the Language    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (21-Aug-2013)

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