Is there a turning-point age to learn a language?
I have two cousins who moved to the US 11 years ago. (the year 1996)
Back then, the elder one was 16 years old and the younger one was 9.
Now they are 27 and 20, and they became US citizens last year.
Interestingly enough, their fluency of English is different even though they have stayed in the States for the same amount of time.
The younger one speaks English perfectly and his accent is totally native-like. He even speaks English better than Korean now.
However, the elder one speaks English quite well but he still has Korean accent in his English. And he speaks Korean better than English unlike his younger brother.
Considered this fact, do you think there is a turning-point age to learn a new language?
If there is, what age is the turning-point to become a native-like speaker?
I don't think there is a turning point, but the same thing happened with Henry Kissinger and his younger brother. The younger brother ended up with a native-sounding accent and the elder Kissinger retained his German one. I saw Mr. Kissinger on TV recently and he seems to have lost his accent a little and speaks with a more American-sounding accent in English. I'm not an expert on Kissinger, but that's something I read a few years back.
I really think people can get a native-sounding accent in a language after the ages you mentioned.
Hmm. The age difference might be only a coincidence, but it might not. In my understanding, it makes a much bigger difference in the earlier years, more like 6 years old and younger, but it's possible that children, or at least some children, are still more receptive to language learning at age 9.
My guess is that it may be due in part to the younger brother's more limited vocabulary. At age 9, there are still many concepts to learn, and you'll learn them in your second language, whereas at age 16, you'll know many more concepts and just translate them from your second language to your first. So the younger brother is basically forced to use English in his head more often and for more concepts in an early stage of learning the language.
I think that, assuming both of them are ordinary people, the older brother should be able to attain the same type of fluency, but it might require more work... perhaps more than he is willing. A lot of language learners don't make it a high priority to learn a language to its last details, which is certainly understandable when there are many other concerns to deal with when living in another country.
BTW, their parents(which are my uncle and aunt) have a strong Korean accent and their English is not very good even though they've lived in the States for about 10 years!
I bet there is a turning poin age.
Adults can never be like native speakers!!
It's really hard to change your accent once you become an adult.
"Adults can never be like native speakers!!"
I'm afraid I disagree. Of course, I dislike words like "difficult" and never" (lol)... I learned other languages after I became an adult
and I've been told that I have a native-sounding accent in most of the languages I speak. This is not to brag, but to encourage you. If you are musical it will be easier I think, but you DO have to take risks. You have to expect that some people will laugh at you and you have to take that in stride. People spend money on accent reduction because it works!
In some societies (I think Korea may be one of them) people will not correct you easily. Even Americans will often let you get away with atrocious sounds in English if they understand you. Find a friend and ask him or her to correct you.
This has been studied at length. It seems that for the vast majority of people, vital neurons concerning language development begin to stop growing after about puberty, and the fusion process ends at about the age of 21. After that point, for a few gifted students, native speech is possible, but for vast majority, impossible.
Here's the most credible study I found:
I'm gifted? I'm not so sure about that... My "ear" may be a little better than some people. I think people are limited by negative thinking and lack of concentrated effort. In other words, people make other things their priorities...
I also think that students of all ages have to get over thinking that it is okay to speak a foreign language through their own language-that it is "good enough" to approximate sounds. There is "cheap" software out there (I bought some for less than five dollars. I think I paid about three dollars at a discount book store chain.) where one can listen to one's own accent and compare it to a native accent. I got the incredibly inexpensive 31 languages of the World and English (for Spanish speakers) is included. It doesn't matter, other foreign speakers of English people can use it too. I imagine there is other software out there. I just bought that one cheaply and I've had a lot of fun seeing how closely I can sound like native speakers in languages I do not know.
I agree with you about methods to change accents, Jasper. In fact, I agree with you about a lot of things, but I don't want to discourage people from doing their best. I have found things that work for me.
Here's a thought, KT: Perhaps the Critical Age Hypothesis is valid for some, but not for others. We humans have a tendency to think in shades of black-and-white; this might be one instance where such thinking is inaccurate.
I sure hope you're right, KT--this is one thing about which I really want to be wrong.
I think the best approach for native speaking, though, is concerted effort, and some modelling work. I believe modelling work touches on issues that regular accent work cannot touch, such as cadence, intonation, etc. I don't think those issues can be taught in a classroom, but in my own limited experience, became painfully obvious in modelling work.
If any students are reading this, while it may or may not be possible to achieve 100% accent-free English speech, it certainly is possible to achieve 95% or more, in my opinion.
It's possible to reach a level where the accent is NOT distracting to native speakers. That's the real goal, I think. We all want people to listen to what we have to say, not to how we make a certain vowel sound.
Here's the other hint I gave in another thread: Buy recordings with native speakers and texts. Move your mouth silently while hearing the text read, THEN read along with the speaker, then repeat. I am really shocked when I listen to recordings I've done. It works.
Teachers don't have time to work with students individually and frankly some students are too ornery to make the effort (I mean adults)...Kids are okay.
"Here's a thought, KT: Perhaps the Critical Age Hypothesis is valid for some, but not for others. We humans have a tendency to think in shades of black-and-white; this might be one instance where such thinking is inaccurate."
Oh, I agree, but I don't want this hypothesis to be perpetuated. I think it limits potential. Some people will strive no matter what. Others will give up easily.
I have a friend who for some ding-dang reason thought that if he ever went roller skating he would break a leg. Of course, he met a girl who wanted to go roller skating. He went skating and immediately broke his leg. He called me up, "Guess what? I broke my leg." He prophesied his own downfall by his words.
Give a person "expert words" and the person will believe them...
I've heard that the age is around 12 or 13 when a speaker can easily "pick up" the accent of a new language if they are immersed in it. After that, some conscious effort is required, otherwise, the person will retain the accent of their first language. Of course, this does not affect learning the actual language, just the accent. I can't recall where I read this, but it seems to be a general rule from what I've observed in people, and would seem to apply in your case as well.
<<It's possible to reach a level where the accent is NOT distracting to native speakers. That's the real goal, I think. We all want people to listen to what we have to say, not to how we make a certain vowel sound. >>
<<Here's the other hint I gave in another thread: Buy recordings with native speakers and texts. Move your mouth silently while hearing the text read, THEN read along with the speaker, then repeat. I am really shocked when I listen to recordings I've done. It works. >>
I agree! A zillion %! The modelling method is very badly underrated. I have had similar success with it. I modelled French for a short time, too, in the 70s with Linguaphone cassettes--and this is before I'd ever even heard of modelling (I'd had an epiphany of sorts). I was badly shocked to hear just how pronounced my accent was, in spite of the fact that I made straight As in the class.
<<Oh, I agree, but I don't want this hypothesis to be perpetuated. I think it limits potential. Some people will strive no matter what. Others will give up easily. >>
I have to admit that you're right, KT.
"I'd had an epiphany of sorts"
Same feeling! I would recommend this also to Native Korean (but no manipulating, y'hear?)...You have the tools, use them for good things.
The difference, obviously, is that adults are more resist to change. They are embedded in the native language, have spoken it all their life, are more comfortable with themself, and it is all they know , or , usually, care about. It's not that there is physical barriers, only mental barriers. Young people on other hands, are still developing, not sure of what they even want of life, are capricious and willing to change, accustomed to being ordered, and wanting to fit in. They are undergoing process of adjusting to life, so adjusting to another language is only more of the same. Believe my words, for it's a psychologist's words.
"obviously, is that adults are more resist to change"-Franco
There is something in what you said. Adults don't like feeling foolish when they speak. Sometimes it takes a few times to master a new sound or there are sounds that the adult does not want to make (like the "h" sound.
Oh sure, I agree. I see this all the time. People are afraid of making mistakes. When I encounter a word that I can't master easily, I just set it aside until I get more experience in the language or until I can ask a native speaker to speak it slowly for me. I think some people hit a barrier and they give up.