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S. Polskaya

Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) (RUSSIAN FEDERATION)
For many years, the Critical Period (further referred to as CP) hypothesis in second language acquisition (further referred to as SLA) has been the focus of SLA researchers’ attention. However, the scholars still haven’t come to any unanimous conclusion in respect of multiple CP issues: the exact age the CP starts and ends, the degree of the CP influence on particular aspects of language learning, e.g. phonology, lexis, morpholog, etc. The majority of researchers do support this CP hypothesis, encouraging everyone to apply ‘the earlier – the better’ principle when it comes to SLA. As a result, there exists a popular belief – children can acquire foreign languages effortlessly and they do this more efficiently than adults. The study we conducted was aimed at getting actual evidence –whether young leaners are really better at acquiring a second language (English in our case) as compared to adults whom many academics believe to lack this ability.

Using data analysis and cross-sectional methods of studies, we compared two groups: Group 1 began learning English at the age of 5 as a part of a pre-school course and then continued to learn it at a primary school. By the time of the experiment, Group 1 members had been studying English for 3 years, having on average 4 hours of classes every week. Average age of Group 1 members – 8 years. The other object of the experiment, Group 2, comprised people whose average age was 26 years and who started learning English from ABC attending a three-year English learning course. At the time of the experiment this group’s participants had been learning English for almost 3 years, having 3,5 hours of English classes weekly.

According to the preliminary assessment, both groups’ level of English knowledge was Intermediate. Each participant of the experiment went through a specifically designed test checking grammaticality and vocabulary level corresponding to their level of the English language knowledge. The test was combined with an oral interview: each group member was to speak about their studies or work for 1,5-2 minutes.

The experiment has brought the following results:
Group 1 showed the 77 to 23% ratio of right/wrong test answers while Group 2 demonstrated a slightly different ratio (79 to 21%). The breakdown of grammatical, vocabulary , syntax and discourse errors for each group was different: while Group 1 made more grammar and vocabulary errors but Group 2 had fewer errors of such type, however, more syntax and discourse errors.

The conducted oral interviews demonstrated the findings almost similar to the written test: the adults Group made fewer overall number of errors as compared to the juniors of Group 1. However, the latter showed much better pronunciation level as compared to Group 2 which confirms the researchers’ earlier conclusions on phonology being the aspect influenced most by CP.

Undoubtedly, we can not make fundamental conclusions from the experiment we made as the number of participants is relatively limited and the test questions do not cover the whole range of grammar and lexical phenomena of the English language. However, the data we obtained can be in some way extrapolated to CP hypothesis, giving no support to the evidence that earlier age of a second language learning is an essential condition of future success in this respect.