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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

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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