The Earlier the Better?

by Lisa-Maria Müller

There seems to be a general consensus that languages are best learned at a young age and it is not difficult to see where this assumption comes from. Children generally acquire their native languages seemingly effortlessly, all while discovering the world around them. Adults, in contrast, tend to find the learning of languages substantially more challenging, even if they put a lot of effort into the task. Hence the logical conclusion that foreign language learning must be easier for children than adults, which explains why the starting age for language learning in schools has consistently been lowered over the past decades. Great. Answer found, case closed, let’s move on. Right? Well, it’s not so easy. The problem with the assumption mentioned above is that it is based on a comparison between first language acquisition and second language learning instead of comparing like with like. That is, students who have started to learn foreign languages early in their school careers and those who have only been exposed to them later in life.

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