LINGUIST List 14.2720

Thu Oct 9 2003

Review: Applied Ling: Garcia Mayo & Lecumberri (2003)

Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <>

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Simin Karimi at


  1. Laura Buechel, Age and the Acquisition of English as a Foreign Language

Message 1: Age and the Acquisition of English as a Foreign Language

Date: Wed, 08 Oct 2003 14:24:05 +0000
From: Laura Buechel <>
Subject: Age and the Acquisition of English as a Foreign Language

Garc�a Mayo, Mar�a del Pilar and Mar�a Luisa Garc�a Lecumberri,
ed. (2003) Age and the Acquisition of English as a Foreign Language,
Multilingual Matters, Second Language Acquisition series.

Announced at

Laura Loder B�chel, P�dagogische Hochschule Z�rich and
Schaffhausen, Switzerland.

''Age and the Acquisition of English as a Foreign Language'' offers
several in-depth studies in the field of foreign language (FL)
learning in an early integration setting. In a compilation of nine
articles, the first three offer an overview of research about the
Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) and other age related factors in FL
learning and the following six are detailed studies of the factor of
age and success in different aspects of FL learning. In comparison to
much research on foreign language acquisition done with immigrants, or
those who have access to the FL outside of the classroom, these
studies were carried out in a population of Basque (and Catalan in the
case of the last two articles) - Spanish bilingual communities where
English has been introduced as a foreign language in the public school
setting, and with students who don't have extra-curricular access to
it. Questions concerning differences in level attained in English
(grammar, speaking, listening comprehension, among others) based age
in which students had started their formal education in English (age
of onset) were researched. This book could well be used as a graduate
level textbook and is also relevant to language planners and those
making decisions about the early integration of foreign languages in
the public school setting.

Chapter 1: Critical Period or General Age Factor(s)
David Singleton

In this chapter, Singleton does not stray from his interpretation from
his 1989 hypothesis that there are perhaps many age effects in general
learning, and other factors which influence FL learning such as
motivation and exposure and because of this, the idea of a CPH cannot
be supported. He discredits many studies which supported or developed
the idea of a CPH because in many of them, language development in
subjects does not discontinue after a given age, which would be the
case if there were a critical period. Moreover, reasons individuals do
not acquire language after a certain age, as in the cases of
''wolf-children'', for example, may be due to a hindrance in general
cognitive development, which is thus reflected in language
development, therefore also not specifically supporting a CPH.

Chapter 2: Phonological Acquisition in Multilingualism
Jonathan Leather

In this chapter, Jonathan Leather looks at the CPH in regards to the
acquisition of native like speech in FL learners. He provides a review
of recent research and covers theoretical frameworks from the
structuralist paradigm and Natural Phonology to Optimality Theory,
Autosegmental Phonology and more. He discusses the possible effects of
native language (L1) on further FLs. He concludes that there are many
individual factors, such as motivation, aptitude, etc... which need to
be taken into consideration and it is difficult to draw general rules
from so many variables, thus not supporting the CPH. He also implies
the need for more longitudinal studies that combine phonetic and
phonological issues.

Chapter 3: Know Your Grammar: What the Knowledge of Syntax and
Morphology in an L2 Reveals About the Critical Period for
Second/foreign Language Acquisition
Stefka H. Marinova-Todd.

After a brief introduction to the CPH and to the idea of ''sensitive
periods'' for FL acquisition, Marinova-Todd presents a review of
literature about the role of grammar in FL acquisition. Due to recent
literature that shows older learners demonstrating equal skills or
even outperforming younger ones in FL acquisition, it should not be
assumed that children are the best language learners. Moreover, the
CPH cannot be justified because there are simply too many
exceptions. Furthermore, these studies emphasize the need for better
programs for adult language learners.

Part 2: Fieldwork in Bilingual Communities

Chapter 4: The Influence of Age on the Acquisition of English: General 
Proficiency, Attitudes and Code-mixing
Jasone Cenoz

This study questions whether the introduction of a third language in
early educational settings is too much for a child in terms of
language mixing. The author looked at achievement by learners who
started learning English at different ages and had different amounts
of instruction, the rate of learning of those who started at different
ages but had the same amount of instruction and the change in
attitudes and motivation. This study confirms other studies which find
that older learners achieve proficiency more rapidly than younger
ones. Reasons for introducing foreign languages into the primary
classroom, then, are due to other factors such as motivation, which
younger learners show more of, but not because they are better
language learners.

Chapter 5: Age, Length of Exposure and Grammaticality Judgements in the
Acquisition of English as a Foreign Language
Maria del Pilar Garcia Mayo

In this study, three questions were addressed. First of all,
addressing whether or not length of exposure in a foreign language
setting has any influence on target-like performance in a
grammaticality judgement task, it was found that yes, the longer the
exposure, the better the participants performed on these
tasks. Secondly, the question was posed of whether earlier exposure
increases performance in these tasks and here, it was found that older
subjects outperformed younger ones in several types of tasks. Finally,
from the question of whether higher cognitive development is related
to a higher degree of metalinguistic awareness, if was found that the
learners who were exposed to English at a later age (11-12), were more
able to find the mistake in a sentence and also provide an appropriate

Chapter 6: English FL Sounds in School Learners of Different Ages
Maria Luisa Garcia Lecumberri and Francisco Gallardo

In their research, the authors find a direct relationship between age
and perception skills - the older (within the scope of public school
setting), the better. Older students portray a better perception
concerning vowels and consonants and they are considered to be easier
to understand and to have a weaker foreign accent, or are more
intelligible. Moreover, intelligibility is also not favored by an
earlier starting age. The main factor which explains learner group
differences are native language interference. Other factors also
involve cognitive strategies used by students at different ages. While
it is commonly acknowledged that older learners are at an advantage
for morphology and syntax, this is one of few studies which confirm
the same for pronunciation.

Chapter 7: Maturational Constraints on Foreign-language Written Production
David Lasagabaster and Aintzane Doiz

At the time of the study, the three groups being researched had
approximately the same number of hours of instruction, but had started
learning English at three different age brackets. Respecting the
changes in theory about error analysis, the authors scored both
holistically (the general impression of the text) and through counting
defined errors (grammatical, lexical, etc...). The authors found that
students who started learning English later scored significantly
better using both approaches, most likely because their L1 skills are
more developed. In analysis of the types of errors made by age, they
found that younger starters made more basic errors and older starters,
due to the complexity of their expression, made more complex mistakes
such as misordering.

Chapter 8: Variation in Oral Skills Development and Age of Onset
Carmen Munoz

In the first research question, the author asks if early starters in a
Catalan-Spanish school setting show a similar, poorer or higher
performance than late starters in oral and aural communicative skills.
It was found that except in receptive skills in aural recognition,
where no significant difference was found, early starters performed
poorer than later starters. Secondly, it was asked if there is a
relationship between length of instruction and language development in
students with different ages of onset. According to the research,
later starters performed persistently better, and that, from the
number of hours of instruction they were allotted, the earlier
starters still hadn't ''caught up''. This is best summed up in the
author's own words ''If no change in trend is observed at the end of
secondary education, it should then be concluded that the current
system of formal education does not provide enough exposure to
students in order for the early starters to outperform the late
starters... (p. 178).''

Chapter 9: Learner Strategies: A Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Study
of Primary and High-school EFL Learners
Mia Victori and Elsa Tragant

The authors here have undertaken a very complex issue which they say
is a call for more researchers and educators to take up the issue of
strategy use and age in FL acquisition. They first looked at if there
were significant differences between the strategies used by FL
learners of different age groups. They found that as learners get
older, they use a wider range of strategies that are increasingly more
complex than their younger counterparts and they do not rely as much
on memorization. Secondly, they looked to see if there is a
developmental trend of strategy use as students grow older and if so,
if they occur progressively with age or are there specific periods
when change occurs. Here, they found that strategy use did not
steadily progress as students grew older and there was much
variability among learners.

This concise volume is worth three times its weight in gold in regards
to valuable research and findings. The studies are well planned and
the literature reviewed is well-chosen and up-to-date. The set up of
the book, with first a review and then studies related to different
skills and strategies, makes it cohesive. The findings, however, could
be very controversial because many communities that are in a similar
situation as in Spain have invested a lot of time and money into the
decision to integrate foreign languages into the primary school. These
studies have implications for a very large population of school
children in Europe and throughout the world learning English as a
third or more language.

The authors were very aware of their limitations, for example in that
although younger language learners may not be the best learners in
general, that there are other reasons for integrating foreign
languages into the primary school. Every author has also emphasized
the need for more longitudinal studies and studies from other
populations in a similar situation to Spain. The need was stressed, as
well, for reflecting on how foreign languages are being introduced
-through which methods - with different age groups.


Laura Loder B�chel is teacher trainer in the fields of Content and
Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and English. She completed her
M.Ed. in Bilingual Education from Northern Arizona University in
2000. Her research interests include the advantages of simultaneous
first and second language acquisition and early foreign language
acquisition in public school settings.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue