[lg policy] Brain's window for language learning open until adulthood

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue May 1 15:35:12 EDT 2018


 Brain's window for language learning open until adulthood

Study of nearly 700,000 people reveals more about cognitive capabilities
for new language learning

Boston College
[image: IMAGE]
<https://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/169275.php>

*IMAGE: *Nearly 700,000 respondents participated in an online research
survey to examine second language learning. Researchers say their new
findings point to prime language learning years extending nearly to
adulthood, far... view more
<https://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/169275.php>

Credit: Image courtesy Games With Words, www.gameswithwords.org

Chestnut Hill, Mass. (5/1/2018) - In a study of nearly 700,000 English
speakers, researchers from Boston College, MIT and Harvard have discovered
the optimal years to learn a second language extend to the cusp of
adulthood, the team reports today in the online edition of the journal
*Cognition*.

It has long been known that children learn language more easily than
adults, but determining exactly when that ability declines has been
something of a mystery.

Benefitting from a massive study population and new research methods that
allowed them to separate interconnected factors in language acquisition,
the team reports that the window for language learning is open
approximately a decade longer than previously thought - until the age of
17.4 years of age.

The new findings hold implications for neuroscience, linguistics,
developmental psychology and public policy, according to the co-authors of
the report, titled "A Critical Period for Second Language Acquisition:
Evidence from 2/3 Million English Speakers."

"What we've found gives us a dramatically different understanding about why
children learn a new language more efficiently and completely than adults,"
said Boston College Assistant Professor of Psychology Joshua K. Hartshorne,
a co-author of the study with MIT Professor Joshua B. Tenenbaum and Harvard
Professor Steven Pinker.

The findings are the first to estimate how long humans can learn grammar
and how that ability changes with age. The ability extends to early
adulthood before it begins to decline, the researchers found. This proved
so for both "easy" and "difficult" syntaxes the team used in their study.

The findings define a clear "critical period for language acquisition" that
lasts much longer than previously thought.

"Explaining this 'critical period for language acquisition' is crucial not
only for understanding why humans, but not animals or machines, learn
language, but also for research questions on neural development and
plasticity, bilingual education, foreign language education, treatment of
disorders that affect language, and early childhood stimulation,"
Hartshorne said.

Tens of thousands of respondents from around the world took the survey
through a quiz the researchers offered online through the site http://www.
gameswithwords.org, Hartshorne said.

He added that earlier studies focused on how much language a seven-year-old
could expect to eventually learn, rather than how quickly a seven-year-old
learns language.

"This has upended standard theoretical accounts of language learning," said
Hartshorne.


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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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