Stefka H. Marinova-Todd is a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education whose research has focused on the existence of the critical period for language learning. She is currently interested in examining the factors that contribute to the successful attainment of foreign language proficiency by some adult learners.
Three Misconceptions About Age and L2 Learning
Article first published online: 4 JAN 2012
2000 TESOL International Association
Volume 34, Issue 1, pages 9–34, Spring 2000
How to Cite
MARINOVA-TODD, S. H., MARSHALL, D. B. and SNOW, C. E. (2000), Three Misconceptions About Age and L2 Learning. TESOL Quarterly, 34: 9–34. doi: 10.2307/3588095
- Issue published online: 4 JAN 2012
- Article first published online: 4 JAN 2012
Age has often been considered a major, if not the primary, factor determining success in learning a second or foreign language. Children are generally considered capable of acquiring a new language rapidly and with little effort, whereas adults are believed to be doomed to failure. Although older learners are indeed less likely than young children to master an L2, a close examination of studies relating age to language acquisition reveals that age differences reflect differences in the situation of learning rather than in capacity to learn. They do not demonstrate any constraint on the possibility that adults can become highly proficient, even nativelike, speakers of L2s. Researchers, in other words, have often committed the same blunders as members of the general public: misinterpretation of the facts relating to speed of acquisition, misattribution of age differences in language abilities to neurobiological factors, and, most notably, a misemphasis on poor adult learners and an underemphasis on adults who master L2s to nativelike levels. By clarifying these misconceptions, we hope this article will lead to a better understanding of L2 learning and, in turn, better approaches to L2 teaching.