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The Acquisition of Language and the Effects of Age

1. Introduction

Second Language Acquisition is a staged and systematic process that occurs on a development continuum. This means that learners work their way through a number of predictable stages or developmental sequences in the acquisition of a language. In light of this, most SLA researchers claim that rather than relying on the conscious teaching of language skills, we must allow for the natural development of progress in stages of learning and acquisition through natural exposure of the language. Such a method of learning mirrors the unconscious ways in which children acquire a first language. This idea subsequently leads to the debate of whether a second language is thus acquired and learnt more easily at an early age also (see Krashen 1985). Many researchers believe that children have a neurological advantage in language learning, before the maturation of the brain, which occurs within the teens (Penfield and Roberts, 1959). During these years, as brain cognition develops and our motivation and willingness to learn become more controlled, the brain also becomes rigid and fixed, thus losing the ability for adaptation and reorganization. This can inhibit the acquisition of a new language (Scovel, 2000).

Thus it is argued amongst many second language researchers that the younger the learner, the quicker the learning process and the better the outcomes. A closer examination of the ways in which age combines with other variables reveals a more complex picture, with both advantages and disadvantages relating to the age of language learners. This assignment firstly provides a brief analysis of the differences in first and second language learning before moving on to discuss the factors that provide evidence for the early years theory in second language acquisition, and subsequently those factors which argue against the idea that the ability to acquire language is biologically linked to age. Finally, this assignment will propose that language learning strategies are dependant upon the age of the learner, and that teachers must take into consideration aspects such as cognitive awareness and affective factors including attitude, personality type and motivation.

 

2. Literature Review

Many researchers including Krashen, Long and Scarcella (1979), and Singleton (1995) suggest the consensus view that older learners are more efficient in the initial stages of L2 learning, but younger learners outperform them in the long run in naturalistic environments. Their conclusions imply that the studies regarding age differences need to be categorized by context (in a naturalistic environment or in a classroom setting) as well as by the level of linguistic ability defined as acquired fluency. Acquisition facilitates fluency and is a subconscious process. Alternatively learning is a conscious process, with learners being made aware of linguistic rules through teaching methods such as elicitation and drilling. Krashen (1985) believes that what learners learn in class consciously is not what leads to fluency and thus acquisition; it only helps to correct and mentor in the checking of mistakes through learnt rules. Firstly, language acquisition will be discussed in relation to L1, and secondly, an exploration into L2 learning and acquisition will be outlined.

 

2.1. First Language Acquisition

First language acquisition is an ontogenetic development, taking place in stages of roughly the same order universally. During the 1950’s, Chomsky used this idea to support his theory of innatism. He claimed that within each child, is a universally inbuilt language acquisition device, or ‘LAD’. Such a pre-programmed set of grammatical principles, according to Chomsky, is what allows language development in all children exposed to language, regardless of environmental factors. Such a theory would provide evidence for the difficulty in acquiring a language in later years, except for the factor that the theory has since been criticized worldwide for many reasons.

Alternative to Chomsky, Skinner and Pavlov argued that rather than an innate skill, language is a behaviour that is learnt and acquired through the principles of conditioning. This includes association, imitation and reinforcement. The Behaviourist theory implies that the child is conditioned only through external rewarding. Here, emphasis is placed on the environment rather than biological capacities. Chomsky opposed the Behaviourist theory, claiming that it is not possible for a child to learn an infinite amount of word combinations, and arguing that a child is capable of creating novel sentences without prior presentation or elicitation. In contrast, it is argued that in adult learning, the linguistic data needs to be consciously presented to the learner before any novel or creative production occurs.

Brown (1973) dismisses the Behaviourist theory, contending that children will go through stages of making mistakes after and before relearning correct forms. This shows that they are processing new information in accordance with learnt rules. These rules then need to be adapted, through environmental factors such as exposure, practice and correction, in order for the child to acquire and produce correct forms. This suggests the importance of a constant reformatting of knowledge, rather than simply inbuilt, permanent rules. This leads to the ideas of Interactionsim, which centres on the notion that language learners (both first and second language learners) learn and gain knowledge through interaction in the target language, i.e. the need for negotiation and communication. Language teachers are aware of the need for authentic exposure of a language in order for students to experience language within its communicative context. This goes against the idea of simply activating innate capabilities, and thus argues that under the same environmental conditions as children, adult second language learners should in theory, be able to acquire a language in the same way.

 

2.2 Second Language Learning/Acquisition.

In relation to second language acquisition there are many reasons why researchers believe that age is a major contributing factor.  Children acquire their first language through constant immersion and exposure rather than classroom learning. The fact that a child’s need to communicate is more vital at such a dependent age is one factor which has been widely discussed. Without any way to communicate their needs and desires, young children risk negelection. By having such a natural need to acquire language, small children have an aspect of innate or sub-conscious motivation and determination, not present in conscious older learners. Motivation and determination are instead conscious factors relating to personal interest such as career advancement or simply learning as a pleasure.

However, in place of an innate desire that is present in a child of 0-4 years, adults attend the learning process with the advantage of a cognitively mature brain. With an adult brain, a learner is capable of meta- cognitive strategies involved in processes such as learning and remembering. In many areas of language measurement results often indicate that adult and adolescent learners perform better because of a maturity of brain development. In contrast, young children do not have access to the memory techniques and other strategies that more experienced learners use in acquiring vocabulary and in learning grammatical rules.

As suggested above, the theory of age in relation to success in language learning is one that is debated both ways. In addition there are misconceptions in the notion language fluency between a child and an adult. A child's early linguistic constructions are shorter and simpler, and vocabulary is also smaller, suggesting that a child does not have to learn as much as an adult to achieve communicative competence. Hence, although many studies suggest that a child acquires a language more quickly and successfully than an adult, the topic is one of major debate, providing conflicting data as a result of the extent of fluency/proficiency measured, and more often, the different types of methods involved in language learning at different ages.

One argument against adults being able to acquire a language as easily as children is the Critical Period hypothesis. This was popularized by Lenneberg (1967) and involves the claim that there is a critical ‘window’ or period of time in which a learner can acquire language if sufficiently exposed to a natural and linguistically rich environment, after which time or age, further language acquisition becomes much more difficult and less successful. Many researchers claim that children in their first few years of life appear ‘to be naturally set to extract grammar for themselves, provided they have sufficient data at their disposal’ (Aitchison, 1998: 76). Most researchers agree that the full window of time lies between the ages of two to puberty. After this time, a learner will experience more difficulty in acquisition. This is a major claim and not without an element of debate. The fact that adults learn a language through different teaching strategies to children is not taken into consideration. Neither is the fact that children are sub-consciously acquiring a language, whilst adults are constantly aware of the input, and will not spend as much time in a classroom environment as a child who is constantly exposed to the language stimulus.

The original Critical Period hypothesis was proposed for first language acquisition and has thus been discussed and argued extensively within the area of second language acquisition, namely in the discrepancies between first and second language acquisition suggested above. Current research challenges this biological imperative of age constraints, arguing that different rates of L2 acquisition may reflect psychological and social factors that favour child learners, rather than the specific aspect of age (Newport, 1990). The strongest evidence for the Critical Period hypothesis in second language acquisition is in a major study of accent (see Moyer, 1999). The results showed that many older learners do not reach a native-like level in accent. However, in certain conditions, native-like accent has been observed amongst adult learners, thus leading researchers to suggest that accent is affected by environmental or psychological factors rather than biological. Sociological factors must also be taken into consideration within such a large encompassing debate, including extrinsic factors such as identity and intrinsic aspects such as ambition and motivation. As will be discussed in this assignment, such considerations can play a vital role in the success of language learning in teenagers and adults.

As has been discussed, researchers distinguish two main ways in which the acquisition of language is affected in adult/older learners. : biologically, whereby the plasticity of the procedural memory for language gradually decreases after about age five; and cognitively, whereby reliance on conscious declarative memory increases both for learning in general and for learning a language from about age seven onwards. According to Paradis (2004:59)  ‘the decline of procedural memory for language forces late second-language learners to rely on explicit learning, which results in the use of a cognitive system different from that which supports the native language’’. Learners may apply compensatory mechanisms to counterbalance decline in implicit learning and subconscious acquisition. However, teachers must take into consideration wider contextual, sociological and cognitive factors that can in fact be advantageous to older learners.

Although Krashen agrees with the major consensus that children acquire a language easier than adults, (Krashen, Long, & Scarcella, 1979), in his later research Krashen (1985) discredits certain elements of the Critical Period hypothesis, instead promoting the ideas of a more naturalistic approach to language learning; claiming that learners, regardless of age, must be exposed to language just above their level of comprehension. This provides grounding that both first and second learners need to be exposed to and presented with language that they do not always understand, in order to learn a certain level of comprehension and thus acquire a language. This mirrors the environment in which a child is exposed to its first language. Krashen (1985) devised the Comprehensible Input theory to promote the importance of a naturalistic environment. The theory is a set of five hypotheses explaining the ways in which L1 and L2 language is acquired, and thus providing an argument for both first and second language learners of varying ages. In terms of second language learning, Krashen’s theories of comprehensible input encounter problems in how the theory can be effectively applied to the classroom environment, whilst also not addressing or manipulating the cognitive advancement of older learners. However the theory has been influential to the theoretical constraints of language learning and in its drawing together of similarities between first and second language acquisition. Subsequently, the theory will be briefly outlined below.

The first hypothesis concerns the importance of acquisition over the learning of a language. Acquisition facilitates fluency and is a subconscious process. Alternatively learning is a conscious process, with learners being made aware of linguistic rules. Singleton (1995) points out that the early beginning of L2 instruction as opposed to acquisition does not result in high proficiency in formal classroom environments, because the amount and density of input are extremely insufficient compared with those in naturalistic contexts. According to his estimation, more than eighteen years of formal instruction will be needed to obtain the same amount of input as naturalistic L2 learners receive, who reach the ultimate proficiency level. Krashen’s theory (1985) also argues that classroom learning only helps to correct and mentor in the checking of mistakes through learnt rules. This is known as the Monitor model and forms the second hypothesis. According to Krashen, learned knowledge does not initiate communication but rather functions as a “Monitor, or editor” (Krashen, 1985: 15). It serves to check the output of the acquired language, making alterations or corrections to its form. According to some researchers, the Monitor model is better developed in more cognitively mature learners. This can be both advantageous and disadvantageous, depending on the extent of development. A mature learner with a moderately high filter will monitor and consciously check their language more than an early learner (i.e. a child) who has no anxiety over producing incorrect language. Whilst, a learner with a high filter will produce better or more accurate language, a too high filter can lead to fluency impairment. 

Krashen (1985) also claims that language rules and grammatical structures are acquired in a predictable, natural, and necessary order. This forms the basis of the Natural Order hypothesis. The teaching is not based on natural order, but instead, students acquire the language in a natural order through receiving a comprehensible input, rather like a child in first language acquisition. Thus production ability emerges rather than being directly taught:

Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill. It does not occur overnight, however. Real language acquisition develops slowly, and speaking skills emerge significantly later than listening skills, even when conditions are perfect.

                                                                                    (Krashen, 1981: 6)

Krashen’s (1985) final hypothesis is the Affective Filter. Similarly to the Monitor model, the Afective filter can cause greater negative effects in older learners. Rather than monitoring the language through cognition, the filter is determined by affective issues such as low self-esteem, low motivation and debilitating anxiety. These can all work to raise the affective filter, which in turn blocks the acquisition of language. This is an aspect that relates primarily to adult learners who exhibit more affective aspects due to the maturity of brain and a self-awareness. In order to maintain a relatively low affective filter amongst adult learners, any negative affective factors which could in time result in anxiety or stress, need to be addressed within the design and execution of learning strategies and teaching methods. These will be discussed in detail in Section 4.

 

3. Methodologies and Learning Strategies for Language Learning.

Within this section, the methodologies and learning strategies for second language learning will be discussed. Subsequently, methods and approaches specific to older learners (based on the above theoretical models) will be proposed and discussed in detail. Both the advantageous and disadvantages to proposed applications of theories will be outlined and discussed.

As reported by Lightbown and Spada (2008), learning a language, and more importantly, the rate of success in learning depends on an individuals own characteristics and the environment in which they are learning, as opposed to solely the constraint of age. Their findings suggest that older learners have a higher level of problem solving and metalinguistics abilities than younger  learners. Other researchers have focused on learners’ pronunciation, syntax and grammatical morphemes. Such diverse research supports the fact that the acquisition of a language depends on many variables, as does the categorization of learners’ abilities and sociological differences between learners. Most notably, research indicates a general consensus that age effects in learning depend largely on the overall contexts of L2 acquisition and particular learning situations, notably the extent to which initial exposure is given (Lightbown 2000). This means that environmental factors must be addressed and discussed in light of any claims on successful language learning.

Approaches to classroom language learning have developed over the past thirty years towards an emphasis on spoken communication rather than learning explicit grammar rules. This is the case for language learners of all ages. According to Krashen’s Comprehensive Input theory (1985), class time should be filled with a comprehensible oral input, whereby teachers are not modifying speech so it is tailored to the exact level of the student. Up until intermediate level, demands for speaking should be low, with students not forced to speak until ready. One direct result is that some researchers have agreed that students must be given a ‘silent period’, whereby they are building up acquired competence in language before they can begin to produce it. Teaching methods such as Total Physical Response (TPR) support such a learning style. However, giving students a ‘silent period’ constrains other methods and approaches to teaching, whereby students are in contrast encouraged to use productive skills in order to enhance fluency rather than accuracy at an early stage in the learning process. A consequence of the ‘silent period’ is the realization that students’ ability to produce output often lags behind their ability to comprehend input.

It is the notion of exposure to authentic linguistic material, which has been the focus of recent debates in second language learning. Since the 1980’s, elements of the Interaction theory have been applied to syllabuses throughout language classrooms, and have since led the way to current theories of second language learning, such as Communicative Teaching and Task Based Learning in which stress is placed upon activities, which are authentic and communicative. The idea of such teaching is to mirror real life, thus enabling adults to learn the same ways and for the same reasons as children- as a result of the need to communicate and negotiate. Projects such as the Immersion project in Canadian schools (introduced in and running since the 1970’s) have been designed to allow students of a second language to become fully integrated into both the language and culture, with no opportunity of reverting to their native language as a back-up. The Canadian project was firstly aimed at primary school children in French speaking areas of Canada. The students, whose first language was English, and had little or no knowledge of French, would be taught all of their academic subjects only in French from the beginning of their education. Whilst early on in such programmes, some reports suggest that children struggled in literacy skills, the later immersion students had no disadvantage in literacy knowledge to those who were taught in their native language. The results to the studies have since been debated, but some researchers argue that the programme shows that some children are able to pick up a native-like quality in their second language when taught in the years of primary education (Genesee, 1987). Results for kindergarten and early years teaching also show that learning a new language at such an early age has a positive effect on intellectual growth and increases students listening skills.

In contrast, researchers argue that adults find it more difficult to learn and acquire a second language. Immersion programs for adults are available and have been researched and discussed (not as extensively as those for children). However, results have been published of a similar Canadian immersion program for 15 year olds as part of a major study in 2000 (The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)) (Genesee, 1987). The brain of a 15 year old is far more cognitively developed than a learner of 0-5 years old and can often be classed as a young adult learner, and thus provide an indication to the extent of improvement, or decline of an adult learner. The results showed that in every province exceptone, students enrolled in French-immersion programs outperformed their counterparts in non-immersion programs in reading performance (PISA). In comparison to younger immersion learners, the results of listening skills do not indicate any major improvements. However, the studies were flawed for various reasons. Firstly, the course was part of self-select process, in which it was mainly girls who chose to enroll. In general, girls tend to outperform boys in reading tasks. In addition, reading skills alone do not quantify a students’ level of native proficiency in a language.

In summary, the results to the study suggest some measurable difference in the language performance of primary school children and teenagers (15 year olds). However, the study cannot solely qualify the theory that younger children acquire a language easier than adults, although it appears to be the case in the above. Baker (1993), also studies immersion projects extensively and found a general conclusion that early immersion students acquire almost-native-like proficiency in passive skills (i.e. listening and reading) by the age of eleven, but they don't reach the same level when beginning an immersion programme at a later age. This suggests that younger learners do in fact achieve a higher rate of success with regards to listening and reading.

Furthermore, Swain (1985) found many faults in immersion learners after seven years of French, despite the unarguably comprehensive input they received. Many researchers believe that it can lead to a fossilized classroom pidgin, rather than natural and authentic language. More controversial is that Krashen further promotes input or immersion by claiming that ‘input’ is not just more important than production, but is all that is necessary for acquisition, but the applicability of this claim to a classroom environment is questionable. Brown (2000) emphasises that ‘input’ is not sufficient because ‘output’ is a vital phase in language acquisition, with the active role of learners and their production being significant aspect of language success. By monitoring a learner’s output capabilities, teachers are able to judge the learner’s progress, and choose and adapt learning materials around them. Most researchers agree that input and output necessarily interact in negotiating meaning and extending learner’s linguistic knowledge.

Whilst Singleton (1995) reports that there is no critical period for learning vocabulary in a second language, some writers have suggested a younger critical age for learning phonology than for syntax (Oyama, 1976). Such results discredit Krashen’s ideas of input only learning, and the lack of need for ‘output’ (i.e. production skills such as reading and writing). In order to achieve native fluency, it appears to be the case that adults would need more output teaching in pronunciation and speaking practice to achieve the same or a similar level as a younger learner. The Comprensible Input theory would not support this need, and thus the gap between adult learners acquired proficiency and language acquisition in young children would widen. However, in opposition to Oyama (1976), Lengyel (1995) carried out a similar phonology test on Hungarian children (age 6-8), coming to different results. The researcher measured both speech perception and speech production of foreign words, and concluded that phonological ability is not a one-dimensional component for children. Therefore, it is too simplistic a view to claim that all children have more abilities than adults in phonology, and other aspects are important. Furthermore, the differences in results between ages was apparent but was not significant enough to make a strong claim. The study supports the idea that differences between adults and young learners’ language proficiency could be attributed to many individual factors such as differences of learning strategies, rather than simply age.

In relation to Krashesn’s hypothesis, there needs to be made no conscious effort to focus on the language, since ‘when the [affective] filter is down and appropriate comprehensible input is presented (and comprehended) acquisition is inevitable’ (1985: 4). This is proposed in adult learners as well as children. In order for it to work effectively, teachers must lower the affective barrier. In terms of classroom implication, this means that teachers must address the affective side of learning alongside other strategies. This implication is where the major differences between young and older learners exist, and the invalidity of Krashen’s hypothesis. Lowering the affective filter can prove extremely difficult with cognitively mature students, whose inhibitions are much more developed than younger learners. Krashen (1985) claims that affective factors such as motivation, attitude, self-confidence and anxiety will affect not only the amount of comprehensible input that learners seek, but will also determine the strength of the filter, thus determining the amount of ‘comprehensible input’ reaching the LAD. Weakening of the affective filter, by strengthening self-belief, or decreasing anxiety, is vital for second language acquisition in adult learners.

Affective learning is deeply rooted in an awareness of the self as a learner and the factors that contribute to differences in learning. These are factors, which must inevitably be addressed when learning a second language as an adult. Affective learning seeks to address ‘aspects of emotion, feelings, mood, or attitudes which condition behaviour’ (Arnold & Brown, 1999: 1). Within the EFL classroom, affective factors can play a fundamental role in both aiding and preventing the effective teaching and learning of language. Such factors include attitudes, motivation, individual learner styles and strategies, and personality types. In terms of course design, individual differences in learners’ abilities and preferred learning strategies must also play an important role. It is not merely enough to design a language course around language content alone, as one must recognise the importance of the individual learner within the learning process. Affective factors in learning are the realization of personal feelings towards the learning process and the learner’s self. Krashen (1982: 132) contends that it is essential for 'some study of the interests and characteristics of the learners to provide input to the syllabus regarding non-linguistic content'. This means that course books should address the personal and individual factors involved in language learning, such as the reasons behind the decisions to learn, as well as how well students are motivated.  A student’s motivation towards learning is intrinsically linked to their progress and achievement through such considerations as whether they have targets or goals, or ambitions in their future use of the language. Their attitudes towards learning also play apart in affecting motivation. If a student has a positive attitude not only to the learning process itself, but also the language and more widely, the culture and society linked to the language, they have higher motivation to learn.

Motivation can be divided into intrinsic/extrinsic and instrumental/integrative and is a key factor in the learning of a second language for adults and cognitively mature students. (Gardner & Lambert 1972). Intrinsic motivation relates to internal factors influencing the motivation of students. This includes attitudes towards the learning situation an their personal aims. Extrinsic motivation relates to external factors influencing the learner, such as their language aptitude, and abilities in the use of various learning strategies. Instrumental motivation has a tangible benefit, such as short-term aims that the student can achieve. Alternatively, integrative motivation relates to how far the learner wants to become integrated externally, within that language society and culture. Oxford and Sheran (1994) list various other factors in relation to learner motivation. These include not only their attitudes, but their beliefs about self, such as expectations of success, their goals and perceptions about the relevance of learning, involvement in the learning process itself, and personal attributes such as aptitude, age and gender. Each of these considerations play a part in the motivation students have to achieve and succeed in learning a language. These are factors which are not present in the learning or acquiring of a language in the first few years of childhood.

A second affective factor instrumental to adult language learning is anxiety. This can have considerable consequences on the progress of learning and needs to be addressed in the designing of any language course. Anxiety can be divided into ‘trait’ and ‘state’. Trait concerns a more stable or permanent tendency to be anxious, whilst state refers to a temporary emotional state, which can change over time and vary in intensity. Macintyre and Gardner (1994) discuss what is termed ‘Foreign Language Anxiety’. This is typically a form of state anxiety, usually associated with negative affects in EFL learning, such as lack of success. According to Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope (1986: 128), learners exhibiting FLA tend to underestimate their L2 abilities. Other correlations between types of learners include generally older learners, high academic achievers, students with poor study strategies, those who have never visited a foreign country, and those with a negative perception of their scholastic competence. FLA is associated with three stages of learning: the input, the processing, and the output (Macintyre & Gardner, 1994). Techniques to address and limit stress and anxiety will be mentioned in relation to the teaching context below.

Finally, personality type is another factor affecting the successful teaching and learning of a language. Differences in such traits as extrovert versus introvert, judging versus open, and sensing versus sequential, reflect differences in the methods and techniques learners prefer to learn with. A highly introvert student may dislike any form of production activity, particularly speaking, and ultimately will try to avoid such activities within the classroom. This will in turn have negative effects on their success at speaking, and therefore cause more anxiety when forced to take part.

Furthermore, one’s tolerance for ambiguity is another factor of personality that can promote or impede progress within the EFL classroom. When placed in an unfamiliar or unsure situation, whether physically, in the language environment, or mentally, within the classroom, some learners are more able to cope than others. Ambiguity can be defined as lacking context within a given situation. Without the necessary context, some learners can adapt and improvise better than others.

 

4. The application of Adult learner strategies within the language learner environment.

In relation to a given teaching context, the affective factors discussed above will play an important role in the designing of the course. Firstly in terms of motivation, whilst older learners may have more personal motivation, younger learners may be more dependent on short-term goals and aims reflecting instrumental motivation. Such concerns would need to be addressed by allowing students to discuss goals and targets, perhaps setting short term ones as well as long term, to keep them focused on the reasons they are on the course. Other factors which could contribute to a learners stress and anxiety include the difference in personality types of adult learners. Students who are forced to learn in a highly communicative environment, where emphasis is placed on speaking out loud may place stress and anxiety on individuals who are more introvert. A younger critical age for phonology, as suggested earlier, would mean that within adult learning, emphasis should be placed on production exercises involving speaking and pronunciation practice. Therefore a balance needs to be achieved in keeping students comfortable and relaxed, whilst involving them in as much speaking practice as possible.

The ability to incorporate choice and learner decisions into the designing of the course is paramount to addressing differences and preferences in learning styles. This is a factor that needs to be taken into consideration in the teaching of a second language to adults rather than children. As an adult, a learner is cognitively mature and developed, which can have both advantages and disadvantages. The learning strategies of older learners are less flexible, meaning that the students usually have a preferred style or method of learning. This may be visual, or auditory or tactile etc. This means that teachers have to take into consideration each individual learning style, in order to maintain a positive affective filter, and thus not creating anxiety amongst learners. Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope (1986: 130) also contend that the ability to chose a topic, for example in discussion activities helps to reduce anxiety concerning speaking activities. Speaking topics should be interesting to students, and perhaps relevant to the conversation types they will be taking part in an authentic context, giving the learning purpose and meaning. Whilst students have choice in not only what they learn, but also the ways they do it, they are able to develop independence and self-responsibility, thus increases the possibility of acquisition.

One way to incorporate affective factors into the curriculum would be to create a questionnaire for adult students. Tests such as the Likert scale work at not only addressing motivation, but also anxiety, and identifying personality types amongst learners. If a teacher has an idea of the different personality types of students, lessons can be planned to their advantage. The teacher must make sure that the strategies and activities involved on the course include and benefit each type of learner. This means that while speaking activities are effective ways of incorporating extraverts, others may prefer small group work or one to one discussions. Therefore, the widest range of skills, strategies and activities is most effective at addressing individual learner preferences and thus maximizing the quality of learning for each learner. Productive activities such as introducing discussions and journal entries on why students are learning, what they want to get from their course, and what problems they may be facing along the way can help to address any feelings of FLA. Such an activity also promotes learner autonomy, allowing students to speak about their difficulties and problems, and thus reduce fear and anxiety.

In conclusion, as the learning process differs as the brain develops, our methods and approaches to teaching a language must differ also, in order to allow students the full potential of accessing their language ability, regardless of age. Thus the activities a teacher offers should be age specific, taking into consideration the factors discussed above, in order for students to learn to their best ability, without age being a hindrance or disadvantage.

 

5. Conclusion

While the window for learning a second language never completely closes, certain linguistic aspects appear to be more affected by the age of the learner than others.  As the brain matures, it loses its flexibility, and thus its abilities to learn and more importantly, acquire new languages. As has been discussed, adult second-language learners find it difficult - and indeed it has been measured as uncommon - for them to achieve a perfect, native accent (Oyama, 1976) regardless of their ability to express perfect grammar and vocabulary. In contrast, linguistic skills such as grammar and vocabulary have not shown a significant difference in adult/child learner performance. However, what has also been explored is the idea that through cognition development, adult learners are subjected to affective factors, which dramatically alter their approach to learning. This can be advantageous, allowing for full motivation, enthusiasm and conscious reflection. Alternatively, some affective factors can inhibit a learner, by increasing anxiety through the threat of correction or failure. In the designing of a curriculum, importance should be placed on addressing all strategies and personal differences in order to achieve the optimum conditions for adult learners within the classroom, and thus maximize their potential for learning language. Affective factors within learning should be taken into consideration not in opposition to factors specific to content learning, but alongside them. When addressed together, the acquisition process in adults can be constructed on a firmer foundation.

 

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