By Majid Dardour
By Majid Dardour
Morocco World News
Rabat, June 7, 2013
We, human beings, are different from animals in the sense that we can use language in creative ways. We can communicate with each other; say what we want, whenever we want. However, the acquisition of any language is closely related to a certain period of time. The earlier you are exposed to a language, the more fluent you will be in that language. To word it differently, children are more likely to reach the full mastery of a language than adults. Researchers and linguists call this period as critical, optimal and sensitive period. Therefore, what is critical period hypothesis? Does it really exist? What is its relevance in second language teaching?
A historical overview of critical period hypothesis reveals that the first one to propose this hypothesis is Montreal neurologist Wilder Penfield and co-author Lamar Roberts in a 1959 paper “Speech and Brain Mechanisms,” which was popularized by Eric Lenneberg in 1967 with “Biological Foundations of Language.” Lenneberg states that language acquisition relies on neuroplasticity. To put it clearly, neuroplasticity or brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Penfield and Roberts (1959) claim that children under nine can pick up three languages in the sense that early exposure to different languages activates a reflex in the brain allowing them to switch between languages without confusion or translation into L1 (Penfield, 1964).
Lenneberg states that if language acquisition does not occur by CPH, the full mastery of that language will never be achieved. A good example for those who believe in existence of CPH is GENIE. A thirteen year old girl; she was isolated from interaction with people. After discovering her, she was exposed to language. However, she was unable to acquire language completely. In the same vein, the reason why most old people are not successful in acquiring a second language is that the brain loses its plasticity. Yet, some scholars still believe that there is no such CPH as long as learners who passed the age of puberty can acquire a language in a quick and efficient way. Of course there are neurological differences between children and adults that may be responsible for the proficiency in language acquisition. However, socio and environmental factors can play a major role in language acquisition.
There is consensus in the field of second language acquisition research that a period of time exists in which the acquisition or learning of a second language can be accomplished more rapidly and easily than times falling outside of this period (Brown, 1994; Larsen-Freeman & Long, 1991; Scoval, 1998). In other words, it is believed that children can easily acquire a language before the age of puberty. However, people who start learning a language after CPH are indeed still able to acquire a second language. Yet, individuals who begin their study of a second language after this critical period show marked performance deficits in the language, most notably the lack of a native-like accent (Brown, 1994). After puberty, people who are learning second languages face problems in pronunciation and accent. They will never achieve native like accent. Therefore, the critical period hypothesis poses a problem for teachers of second language.
Teachers of second languages should view this theory with caution in the sense that they have to use critical period skills in their teaching. For example, pronunciation is considered the most difficult aspect in second language learning; teachers should, for example, give structured pronunciation drills and compare phonemes of the second language to those of first language. However, critical period hypothesis is considered as only one factor that affects L2 acquisition. Many researchers and linguists state that social and environmental variables play a major role in second language acquisition. They base their view on the fact that adults can reach full mastery of language learning if they are exposed to meaningful stimuli and within a non-threatening environment. Adults can acquire native like language capacity if they are taught in real life situations of that language. Interaction with native speakers, for example, can help learners of a second language to develop the native likeness accent of that language.
\ge is considered as very important in learning a second language. Yet, I think that adults can still learn a second language, It just gets more difficult. Social and environmental factors can either be a hinder or a supportive means of acquiring a language. The early exposure to a language is crucial and the socio-environmental context in which a language is taught is very important as well.