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A critical review of age-related research on L2 ultimate attainment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 December 2010

Carmen Muñoz
Universitat de Barcelona,
David Singleton
Trinity College Dublin,


This article addresses age-related attainment effects in second language acquisition, posing the question of whether such effects are to be explained in terms of a Critical Period with a predictable and abrupt offset point or in terms of the impact of a wider range of factors. It attempts to explore this question by focusing on four discussion points in the current debate: (i) the wide use of native-speaker behaviour as the key L2 attainment yardstick; (ii) the degree of compatibility of prevailing views regarding the notion of a critical period for L2 acquisition; (iii) the relative narrowness of much research in this area, where age of L2 onset is often regarded as the crucial if not the only critical variable; and (iv) insights relative to maturational constraints on language acquisition offered by recent brain research. The article concludes that a loosening of the association between ultimate L2 attainment research and Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) issues would shed more light on L2 attainment in terms both of the comprehensiveness and of the acuity of the insights which would result.

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