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By Amelia Lambelet, Raphael Berthele (auth.)

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Several theories concerning the effects of age on foreign language learning are based on hypotheses on L1 development, such as the critical period or sensitive period hypotheses mentioned here. These hypotheses arose from observations of children who had only partially developed their L1, to which they had had little or no exposure during early childhood because of mental disability, deafness (see Newport, 1990, for example), or childhoods spent cut off from all social and linguistic contact (feral children).

Of course, research on near-native proficiency is not a high priority with regard to learning languages at school, where, at least in most European countries, learning objectives are much more practically defined. Nevertheless, the native-like criterion has been the subject of many studies (cf. Abrahamsson & Hyltenstam, 2009; Birdsong, 2003; Bongaerts, 1999; Flege, Yeni-Komshian, & Liu, 1999). 0008 22 Age and Foreign Language Learning in School begins early enough. This idea also emerges in the following extract from Roessler’s call for early learning: Pendant longtemps les enfants demeurent capables d’acquérir dans une deuxième langue une compétence comparable à celle des locuteurs nés dans la langue.

2 With regard to this last point, the hypothesis of a critical period can indeed be verified in the animal kingdom, as can the period’s onset and terminus, as demonstrated by subjecting groups of organisms to a stimulus and varying the ages between groups at the start and end of interference. Of course, these procedures are not possible in the case of L1 acquisition, and age limits can be defined only on the basis of isolated observations of partial L1 development or of cerebral changes that are often difficult to empirically connect to language development in and of itself.

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