喜马拉雅音乐fm交流群

学外语真的越早越好吗?

独佳英语2018-11-08 16:15:11

这篇文章《童年以后你还能学习一门第二语言吗?——重新思考“关键期假说”》,作者David Ludden博士,两年前刊登于“今日心理学”。

关于学外语的最佳年龄问题,我们都习惯地接受了一个观点,那就是“越早越好”。

文章里举了一个案例:一家三口,父母先到美国,父亲在硅谷工作,英语水平是不用说了,母亲有一定英语基础,日常用语也没问题。孩子Judy8岁时和妈妈来到美国的。再之后是祖父母。Judy到美国时,英语是零起点。

但是几个月后,Judy的英语水平就完全可以让他融入到同学中,等到中学毕业,大家都认为他是生于美国的孩子。而此时,他的父亲说英语仍然有口音,母亲仍然会说错,祖父母虽然也参加了英语培训课程,但仍几乎无法和人交流。

这个案例很典型:儿童、中年人、老年人,显然小孩子学语言是有优势的。这是符合我们一直接受的观点:外语学习有个关键期。一旦过了这个“拐点”,学英语就变得越来越困难。

然而事实真的如此吗?

外语学习有个“关键期”,支持这一假说的是JohnsonNewport1989年完成的一项经典实验。但是大家忽略了一个关键点:当时这个实验的对象是一群韩国移民,当然这不重要,重要的是:研究者评测这些移民的英语水平,采用的是语法性判断——让他们听句子、判断这些句子语法是否正确。结果,青春期前就到达美国的受试者,得分远远高于那些成年后来到美国的移民。

后来,语言学家David BirdsongJan Vanhove又做了一次实验,这一次,他们得到了与Johnson实验完全不同的结论!

这一次他们针对不同的移民群体,结果发现:关于外语学习的这个“拐点”,对有些人,是出现在童年早期;而对另外一些人,则完全没有出现过。不过综合所有数据看,学习外语的效果,是随着年龄增长走下坡路的。

毫无疑问,年龄越大、学东西会遇到更多困难。只是我们把原因搞错了。真正影响学习效果的,并非年龄本身。

成年后,再学习一项运动、一门乐器,是很难达到“专业”水平了。但是仔细想想,那么多儿童学习网球和钢琴,最终又有几个能达到专业水准呢?

决定学习效果的不是年龄,而是“环境”和“动机”!

第一个要素是学语言的“环境”。

儿童一般在哪里学会语言的?在街上、在学校,和同伴、和年长者交流,这些都是自然的语言环境。而成年人呢,则大半是在课堂,在一个人工设置的环境里。儿童的生活主要是什么——和人交流。而成年人呢,大半的时间里,他要工作,可能是独立的、沉默的。这是学习语言的环境不同。

第二个要素是学习语言的“动机”。

儿童学外语,目的性很强、也很迫切,因为他需要尽快融入社交。而成年人是一只脚站在原有的文化中,他们学习一门新的语言,是为了能够在工作生活上过得去,这就或多或少有些被动了。而老年人学习动机最低,因为他们与外界的交往越来越少。

由此可见,环境、动机,才是决定外语学习效率的关键。几点启示:

1、“全英文的环境”,其实是可以自己来营造的。比如,你日常所看的影视、听的歌曲,统统来英文的,跑步时可以试试TED的演讲;你喜欢的小说杂志,统统读全英文的;生活中遇到各种场景,都设想它们是发生在一个英语国家……《霸王别姬》里有句台词叫“不疯魔、不成活”。学外语就需要这种疯魔的状态。

2、动机真的很重要,对外语学习更是决定性的。如果是练跑步,规定五公里,你想偷工减料,没可能;如果是做数学题,每道题你都至少要写出答案来。唯独学外语这件事,多说还是少说、多读还是不读、用心听还是三心二意,外人是看不出来的。即便有任何考试,也无法检验出你真正的语言水平——你心里想什么,只有你自己知道。

3、不要过度追求表面的、虚浮的东西。说英语有口音?没关系,先说出口再说。写文章不精彩有错误,没关系,先让人看懂再说。这又好比我们踢足球,专业与否、姿势好坏与否,统统都不重要,重要的是你在奔跑、在流汗,你在这个过程中强身健体、并且融入了一个朋友圈。

做到这三点,学习任何语言,其实都与年龄什么的无关。


附原文:Can You Learn a Second Language After Childhood?

Rethinking the critical period hypothesis

David Ludden Ph.D.

Judy was eight years old when she arrived in the United States from China. (“Judy” was the “American” name her mother had chosen for her.) Her father was a graduate student, and he’d arrived a couple of years before. She and her mother then joined him once their finances were secure.

At first, Judy spoke no English, and she was deeply impressed by how well her father used the language. Even her mother seemed to know enough English to get by in the supermarket and to make small talk with the neighbors. Although her parents arranged play dates with children of other Chinese families, Judy found it hard at first to interact with the kids in her neighborhood and at school.

Within a few months, though, Judy had made friends. She still spoke Chinese with her parents at home, but she could now express herself in English, and her fluency was improving rapidly. Sometimes kids would tease her for the funny way she talked, but her friends said it was cute.

A year after her arrival, Judy no longer admired her father’s English ability. He had a heavy accent and said things in a weird way. He didn’t sound at all like an American, and she noticed that people sometimes had difficulty understanding him.

And as for her mother—well, that was just embarrassing. No matter how many times Judy corrected her, she kept making the same silly mistakes over and over again. More often now, her mother relied on Judy to translate for her.

Judy’s father graduated and got a job in Silicon Valley. They moved to a house in the suburbs, but there were still plenty of other Chinese families nearby. Her grandparents came over from China and moved in with them. They spoke very little English, although they did take English language classes at the Chinese church on Saturdays. Mostly though, they socialized with other retired Chinese immigrants in the community.

By the time Judy graduated from high school, most people assumed she’d been born in this country. If you knew her history, you could still detect a few subtle oddities of pronunciation and grammar. Otherwise, you’d likely dismiss them as personal quirks—that’s just the way Judy talks.

Judy’s situation is typical of the immigrant experience in this country and elsewhere around the world. Those in the younger generation (like Judy) pick up the new language quickly, and it eventually becomes their dominant language. Those in the middle generation (like Judy’s parents) learn the new language to the extent that they need it in their careers and daily lives. And those in the older generation (like Judy’s grandparents) pick up little more than a few words and expressions, preferring instead to limit their social interactions to family and fellow immigrants.

The fact that it gets harder to learn a second language the older you are is well documented. However, the reasons are less understood, although there’s plenty of speculation. The most common explanation you’ll hear from scholars of language is that there’s a “critical period” for language learning. In other words, there’s a window of opportunity in which picking up a new language is easy, but once that window shuts, language learning becomes much more difficult, if not impossible.

The classic study demonstrating a critical period for language learning was conducted by Johnson and Newport (1989). The researchers used a grammaticality judgment task to assess English proficiency in a group of Korean immigrants. That is, the participants listened to sentences and indicated whether each was grammatically correct or not. Those who’d arrived in the U.S. before puberty got virtually all of the questions right, just like native speakers. But there was a steep decrease in performance after puberty.

However, as linguists David Birdsong and Jan Vanhove point out in the new book Bilingualism Across the Lifespan, subsequent attempts to replicate this study with different immigrant groups have yielded inconsistent results. Sometimes the “inflection point”—the sudden drop in performance—comes earlier in childhood, and other times the data show no clear inflection point at all. When the data from all of the studies are combined, Birdsong and Vanhove maintain, what you get is a downward-sloping line. In other words, the older you are, the less likely you are to master a second language. But we already knew that.

No doubt maturational factors play a role. Many things get harder to learn as we get older, like playing a sport or a musical instrument. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn tennis or the piano as an adult. You’re never going to play like a pro. But then again, nearly all the kids taking tennis or piano lessons will never play like a pro, either.

Birdsong and Vanhove maintain that situational and motivational factors are just as important in determining ultimate attainment in a second language. Consider the typical situation in which children and adults learn a new language. Kids learn it on the street and in the school, interacting with peers and elders. Grownups enroll in a language class. In other words, youngsters learn language in a natural environment, while their elders attempt to do so under artificial circumstances.

Motivation also plays an important role. Children need to master the language of the society they live in. They have a strong motivation to fit in. Younger adults, though, typically have one foot in the old culture and another in the new. They learn enough of the new language to get by. Furthermore, older adults, especially after retirement, tend to restrict their social circles to family and a few close friends, even when they’re living in their own culture. Older immigrants have little motivation to learn the new language, since they’ll have little interaction with members of the new society.

If you believe there’s no way you could ever learn a second language, consider the following thought experiment. Imagine that you’re the sole survivor of a shipwreck, and you’ve washed ashore on an uncharted island. None of the inhabitants speak English. How long will it take you to learn their language? You’ll never speak like one of them, but within weeks you’ll be finding ways to express yourself, and within months you’ll be having conversations in your new language.

In the end, language learning is a normal part of the human experience. The vast majority of Americans have little motivation to learn another language, because they don't have to. But when the situation demands it, people pick up as much of a new language as they need to get by, whether that be speaking like a native, fluent but with a heavy accent, or just enough to do the shopping.