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Oral Proficiency of L2 Late Learners


In second language learning, it is commonly believed that the eariler children learn target language, the better oral proficiency they wll achieve. So for L2 late learners, acquiring speaking skills is not easy at all. This is a place for language teachers to explore and discuss the challenges for L2 late learners who want to talk like native speakers of target language. Please share your experiences, instructional methods, or activities with others here. Let's help L2 late learners achieve native-like oral proficiency together!

Challenges for L2 Late Learners

Critical period

  • "Critical period…refers to a period of time when learning a language is relatively easy and typically meets with a high degree of success. Once this period is over, at or before the onset of puberty, the average learner is less likely to achieve nativelike ability in the target language (Marinova-Todd, et al. 2000)."
  • In general, early learners acquire L2 oral proficiency faster and better than late learners.
    • 16 Japanese children and 16 Japanese adults took two tests separated by about one year after they settled in U.S.A. The result showed that Japanese children improved in English oral production more quickly and had better performance than Japanese adults (Aoyama et al. 2008).
    • Chinese and Spanish early and late learners were tested. Early learners arrived in America before they were 15 years old while late ones arrived after 15 years old (arrival of time means the time they started learning English). It revealed that no matter which country they came from, early learners performed better than late learners in oral items of grammaticality judgment task (Bialystok & Miller 1999).

Overreliance on L1

The over reliance on the firmly established L1 phonetic categories hinders the establishment of new L2 phonetic categories. The greater the similarity between and L2 sound and the closest L1 sound, the more likely it appears to be that the learner wil not notice the subtle differences that exist between the two sounds (Fledge, 1995).

Opposition to Critical Period


  • Researches put enormous emphasis on unsuccessful adult L2 learners. Numerous studies have shown that many adults do have problems in learning another language. Yet researchers and nonspecialists have mistakenly believed that this implies that all adults are incapable of mastering an L2. However, many studies have shown that young learners tend to perfrom fairly similar to one another while older learners show great variation in thier proficiency (Marinova-Todd, et al. 2000).
  • Researchers ignored the late learners with nativelike L2 proficiency(Marinova-Todd, et al. 2000).
    • Native speakers of Dutch who had been exposed to considerable British English input after 18 were tested to read out 6 sentences for three times. The recording of oral tests were judged by native speakers of British English. These native speakers of Dutch who had learned English after critical period were rated as native speakers of British English(Bongaerts et al. 1997).

Improve Oral Proficiency of L2 Late Learners

Raising Motivation

Teachers should promote L2 late learners' motivation, such as oral tests and setting up goals.
  • Native Japanese children had better oral proficiency than adults since they are more motivated to learn English. At school, they had to use English to communicate with peers and finish homework. Positive attitude cause larger improvements in L2 (Aoyama et al. 2008).

Perceptual and Production Training

Teachers shoould provide perceptual training of subtle phonetic contrasts between learners' L1 and L2 and training of production of L2 sounds.

  • Dutch learners had all received intensive training both in the perception and in the production of the speech sounds of British English(Bongaerts et al. 1997: 463).

Silent Period

Silent period09:43

Silent period

Silent Period Explained by Steve

Adult learners can attain nativelike pronunciation in the target language if they experiecne a silent period during which they are aksed to listen to L2 speech without speaking it. Silent period is the condition replicating the learning situation of young children learning L1 (Marinova-Todd, et al. 2000).

Suprasegmental Feedback

In addition to word-level correction, overt suprasegmental feedback (intonation, stress, rhythm) should be provided.

  • Native speakers of English learning German after critical period were tested to read words, sentences, paragraph, and make free-response. The more suprasegmental & segmental feedback they had received, the better they performed(Moyer 1999: 92).



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