Source: The Bilingual Family: A Handbook For Parents by Edith Harding & Philip Riley, 1999, CUP.
Over half of the world’s population is bilingual. This fact is usually surprising to many Europeans, who are under the impression that living with two or more languages is exceptional. (p. 27)
What matters and what doesn’t in second language acquisition?
Singleton’s survey (1983, Age as a Factor in Second Language Acquisition. CSLC, Trinity College, Dublin) of all the reserach and evidence shows clearly that age, in itself, is not particularly relevant to success in language learning, whereas motivation and opportunity are. (p. 63)
What is the same and what is different about young and adult foreign language learners?
Children put vast amounts of TIME and EFFORT into mastering a language: where adults do likewise, they seem to learn just as well, pronunciation excepted. In fact, adults do BETTER in terms of RATE of acquisition, and not so well in terms of eventual outcome: younger people do seem to acquire native-like accents, whereas older people seldom* lose their foreign accents. (p. 63)
*Seldom* does not mean *never*! I have read about about studies of adult SL learners with native-like accents in “The Study of Second Language Acquisition” (2008, 2nd edition, OUP) by Rod Ellis.
Update 24-12-12 an interesting discussion initiated by speakers of English about ways of acquiring a native-like Chinese accent
I am teaching elementaries this year – this is very unlike me for I find this level somewhat tedious to teach. To make matters worse, instead of two nationalities, I’ve got four – it is a real challenge, for I do understand what sort of problems Russians and Estonians might encounter in terms vocabulary, grammar or pronunciation, but I am at a loss when it comes to teaching Italians or the Polish:( They seem to be struggling with English sounds a lot more and I have to incorporate loads of pronunciation practice activities into my lessons as a result to cater for their needs. Obviously, it does not hurt when we work on individual sounds and intonation more, but that is a completely new aspect of teaching – I have never devoted so much time to it before. Another thing is that I have to use flashcards and other paraphernalia every now and then, which is something I am not very keen on either as that means becoming a backpacker again . The good thing is that the dynamics of the group are almost perfect, they are all very nice, smiley people, do their homework most of the time, hardly ever miss classes, are willing to collaborate and have all the oomph I could wish for, and that’s very rewarding.