Age Constraints on Second-Language Acquisition

Academic Article


  • This study evaluated the critical period hypothesis for second language (L2) acquisition. The participants were 240 native speakers of Korean who differed according to age of arrival (AOA) in the United States (1 to 23 years), but were all experienced in English (mean length of residence = 15 years). The native Korean participants' pronunciation of English was evaluated by having listeners rate their sentences for overall degree of foreign accent; knowledge of English morphosyntax was evaluated using a 144-item grammaticality judgment test. As AOA increased, the foreign accents grew stronger, and the grammaticality judgment test scores decreased steadily. However, unlike the case for the foreign accent ratings, the effect of AOA on the grammaticality judgment test scores became nonsignificant when variables confounded with AOA were controlled. This suggested that the observed decrease in morphosyntax scores was not the result of passing a maturationally defined critical period. Additional analyses showed that the score for sentences testing knowledge of rule based, generalizable aspects of English morphosyntax varied as a function of how much education the Korean participants had received in the United States. The scores for sentences testing lexically based aspects of English morphosyntax, on the other hand, depended on how much the Koreans used English. © 1999 Academic Press.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Flege JE; Yeni-Komshian GH; Liu S
  • Start Page

  • 78
  • End Page

  • 104
  • Volume

  • 41
  • Issue

  • 1