My research on Age Effects in Language Acquisition began as a curiosity in a Child Second Language Acquisition course with Dr. Tania Ionin. This turned into class project and pilot study (see Ross 2012 SLATE Poster), and the results motivated me to pursue this topic for one of my qualifying exam papers and I went to Ecuador to work with 67 speakers of Spanish, from age five through adults (see Ross 2013 and Ross 2013 Qualifying Exam paper), and again to collect more data for a total of 100 participants and stronger statistical results (Ross et al. 2015).
My findings were that “age effects” actually may be at least partially due to changes in memory systems (see Ullman 2001), as children rely on procedural memory for grammatical learning (as they would for learning to ride a bicycle, for example) while adults instead rely on their superior declarative memory ability which, though helpful in the short term, does not lead to native-like ultimate attainment (see also Newport 1990). For a discussion of the methodology and results, see Ross (2013) and extended data in Ross et al. (2015). The benefit of the methodology developed for this experiment is that we can test subjects at their respective ages and observe different behaviors and outcomes in the language learning process, rather than including only adult subjects who began learning the language at different ages and looking for correlations with ultimate attainment.
This research has been possible with the help of undergraduate research assistants: Sara Londono, Kinga Wolska, Julia Cronin, Michelle Patiño and Leslie del Carpio. Their diligent work scoring and transcribing the recordings has been critical to the analyses presented here.