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Language use affects proficiency in Italian–Spanish bilinguals irrespective of age of second language acquisition*


The role of age of acquisition (AoA) in reaching native-like proficiency in second language is controversial. The existence of a critical period and the effect of AoA have been questioned by studies testing lexical and/or morphosyntactic skills, and by functional brain exploration. The aim of this study was to verify the effect of AoA and language practice on proficiency in a bilingual pragmatic task and its relationship with cognitive skills. The study involved a group of Italian–Spanish bilinguals, classified according to their AoA and language use. All participants performed a pragmatic bilingual test and a battery of cognitive tests. A multivariate analysis showed significant effects of language use and cognitive skills and a non-significant effect of AoA. These results indicate that continued language practice is a major factor influencing high bilingual proficiency, irrespective of AoA, suggesting that proficiency may be weakened when bilingual experience becomes occasional or ceases.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Fabrizio De Carli, Institute of MolecularBioimaging and Physiology, C.N.R., Via de Toni, 5, I 16132, Genoa,
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The study reported in this paper was funded by a grant from Genoa University (projects selection 2007). The authors would like to thank the reviewers for their comments and suggestions which helped to improve the manuscript. They also thank Frances I. Evans Mariani and Jennifer Accardo for their valuable assistance with manuscript editing.

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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
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