Age Effects in Child Second Language Acquisition /

Alternate title: English Language and Literacy Skills of English L2 Students in Junior High: Determinants and Outcomes


Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant (Paradis [PI], Marinova-Todd, UBC [Co-I], Järvikivi, U of A [Co-I])

Statistics Canada (2011) estimates that about half of Canadian residents could be foreign born or have one foreign-born parent by 2031. Thus, a large proportion of the next generation of Canadian children will be English second language (L2) learners. Research on long-term success in L2 learning of children from newcomer families would be highly relevant to Canadian society, as language skills form the foundation for academic achievement and integration. The common wisdom concerning success in L2 learning is “the younger, the better”, referring to age of acquisition onset (AOA).  While research largely supports the common wisdom when it comes to individuals beginning to learn a L2 in adulthood, much less is known about whether learning a L2 at different AOAs in childhood makes a difference in whether or not children become identical to native-speakers of that language in the long term.  On one hand, studies have shown that adults who began to learn the societal language as a L2 in early childhood do not always possess L2 grammar and pronunciation equivalent to native-speakers, contrary to what is commonly expected. On the other hand, researchers have found that language input, experience and use factors, first language background and language-learning aptitude also shape children’s L2 development, possibly more so than AOA. However, long-term L2 outcome studies have rarely been conducted with child learners, and the impact of non-AOA factors on child L2 acquisition has mainly been studied during the early stages of L2 learning.

The purpose of this research project is to measure the English language and literacy skills of bilingual (English L2) and monolingual students in the same classes in older grades – grades 7-9. Bilingual students will include those who have experienced all of their schooling in English as well as those who are new arrivals, thus students who vary in AOA. Our measures include standardized tests and experimenter-made measures targeting grammar (morphology) and pronunciation (phonology). We want to know if there are any differences between monolingual and bilingual students at this age and for which English skills. We also want to know what impact bilingual students’ language input, experience and use factors contribute to their L2 development, and in turn, how they compare to their monolingual peers. (Language input experience and use factors: students’ reading, media and social media preferences and engagement, what language(s) they use with friends and family, family SES, etc.) Finally, we want to know if students’ AOA, their first language background, and their language learning aptitude also play a role in determining their English skills in junior high, and any potential differences with their monolingual peers.