How does the age of my students affect my teaching?

This is the distilled version of the Critical/Sensitive Period Hypothesis post. I am pretty sure you came across this post at some point in your PGDE or PGDCE training, however, we all know that the PGDE is for most of us THE TOUGHEST YEAR in your working life and you are totally exonerated for not remembering this particular piece of information.

If you do remember it, then I am afraid I about to blow your mind! Not quite, but I can confirm that the maxim of… ” Early is best” is not entirely attested. Drum roll!

R.I.P “Critical Period Hypothesis”

So, if you have already read the Critical Period Hypothesis under the SLA theory page, you will now know that the Critical Period Hypothesis was first coined by Peter Wenfield in the late 1950s and that it was originally focused on L1 learners.  Fast forward, a few decades and the latest studies have disproved that this L1 restriction is transferable to  an L2.

Older vs younger learners of L2

Whilst writing my dissertation, I came across an excellent study that summarised the strengths and weaknesses of older and younger learners.

Younger learners Older learners
·       May find it easier to acquire a good command of the sound system of the language. Not just pronunciation but also patters of intonation.

·       They are likely to be less anxious as older learners.

·       An earlier start enables productive links to be made between first and additional languages, which can have important benefits for a child’s language awareness and literacy.


·       May be able to plot their language on to concepts about world which they already possess from their L1. Thus helping their vocabulary acquisition (Ausbel, 1964).

·       They may be more experienced in handling the discourse of conversations and other language activities, and thus may be more adept at gaining feedback and in negotiating meaning (Scarcella and Higa,1982)

·       Due to their L1 literacy, they are likely to have acquired a wider range of strategies for learning. ie. note taking.


Table 2 Comparison of L2 advantages of younger and older learners (Johnstone, 2002:12:13)

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