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Article: Is there a 'critical age' for language acquisition?
Thread poster: Staff Staff
Local time: 02:21
Jun 12, 2007

This topic is for discussion of the translation article "Is there a 'critical age' for language acquisition? ".

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Hilal Gümüş
Local time: 12:21
English to Turkish
+ ...
of course there is and should be a critical age for language acquisition Sep 4, 2007

As stated in the article, there is a critical age for language acquisition. I remember that in another article, of which the author moves France in his 40s, it is stated that the pronounciation (or accent) of the author's daughter,who is 9 years old, is better than his father's pronounciation of French. In this sense, I think that language acquisition really depends on the age. It is also the same case for foreign language learning. To illustrate, in Turkey, the students are to begin learning English (as a foreign language) at 9 years old for couple of years because it is considered that the critical age for learning or acquire a foreign/second language is between 9 and 11. As for vocabulary learning, I agree with the author of this article in that it is a lifelong process so it does not cause any problem during language acquisiton.

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Jennifer Hejtmankova  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 11:21
Member (2007)
Czech to English
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Should a "native-like accent" be the goal? Dec 3, 2007

I completely agree with the premise that second language acquisition must begin as early as possible in order to take advantage of a child's natural ability to mimic sounds, and their natural enthusiasm for learning. However, I do not feel that a "native-like accent" should be the goal of every language leaner. In my opinion, this puts too much of a focus on accuracy and less on basic communication. In many cultures, there is an unwritten expectation of "perfectionism" in schools - i.e. don't speak unless you are 100% sure you know the answer, any grade less than an "A" or a "1" is unacceptable. This perfectionism makes it very difficult for young learners to feel comfortable speaking and they are therefore unable to express themselves easily. This is one of the goals of my language agency - to teach the children that it's ok to make mistakes, as long as you can express yourself and be understood (but still offering guidance and appropriate corrections).

Now, of course I have nothing against pronouncing a word properly! But correct pronunciation needn't mean accent elimination. I find it odd to hear a Czech speaking with a British accent - it's not "their" accent!

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Fabio Descalzi  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:21
Member (2004)
German to Spanish
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A sign of respect for the language, but not the main need Dec 3, 2007

Indeed, there are different ages for acquiring certain language features. And no doubt: the younger you start out, the better.
The author puts some important factors which are critical regarding the acquisition of accent: motivation, repetition, encouragement, and shared phonological features.

Motivation and encouragement are to be seen, for instance, when the language learner engages in a strong and deep relationship. Many cases in which getting in love for a long time, or being mother, are decisive for achieving the very right accent. Not only from another language - from another "dialect" as well. I personally know a woman from my neighbourhood who at 27 married a man from Chile, another Spanish-speaking country and went to live with him in his country. 7 years after that, she arrived here with her 2 little children - it was very funny (and revealing) to see how she had turned into a perfect Chilean, "in order that her children didn't have a funny-speaking mom".

Maybe the hardest part of it is shared phonological features. An easy example is the pronunciation of R in English, Spanish and French (three very characteristic pronunciations); moving across Europe you find, roughly speaking, different varieties of the three pronunciations (OK, an experienced linguist like the author would disagree with me, but once again: let's put it easy just for practical purposes). Even inside Germany, you find native speakers with the French-like uvular R and others who don't use it at all. People that go to live in other linguistic environments may learn the local language wonderfully , including intonation and accent - but they'll usually keep their "distinctive seal": the R.

Locals will notice at once who is "from far away"; but the main point regarding adaptation is, of course, good skills for communicating. If the "new" speaker of a language shows excessive signs of inability after a long time, maybe one can think that this person is rejecting the adopted language. But if the "new" speaker gently develops new pronunciation, etc. then locals will love the result of his efforts - and kindly forgive one or two "kept" pronunciation features, such as the R or the tendency to say longer vowels.

[Edited at 2007-12-05 12:12]

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Local time: 11:21
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
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Interesting issues Apr 12, 2012

I did find this article interesting in general, and particularly from a language teaching perspective, but I don't really see how it has much bearing on the art of translation per se.

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