Is younger always better for second language acquisition?

by Tamara Sorenson Duncan & Johanne Paradis

When it comes to learning a second language, it is a common assumption that younger is better. However, this belief has not stood up to empirical investigations of bilingual development. For immigrant and refugee children, early introduction of English can undermine bilingualism by jeopardising their first language. Furthermore, older children tend to learn a second language more rapidly than their younger peers and not the reverse. As further evidence against this old adage, we will present data from 89 immigrant and refugee children who are at the onset of their schooling in Canada. These data revealed that foreign-born children, as well as older children, have advantages both in their first language (L1) and in English (i.e., achieved higher L1 scores and performed better on an English narrative task). As such, these findings further call into question the push to introduce English as early as possible for preschool-aged newcomer children. Earlier may not always result in the expected benefits for children’s English development and indeed may come at a great cost to children’s first language skills.

You can access the author’s recent presentation from the 1st Annual Conference on Child Language Acquisition Research in Alberta (CLARA) here