The Age Effect in Bilingual Development

Principal Investigator
Professor Monika Schmid

Why are bilingual children better at language learning than adults?

Professor Monika Schmid has conducted research into why bilingual children are better at language learning than adults.

Previously, researchers had disagreed over whether the age effect is due to language-specific neurobiological and maturational processes, or more general factors linked to cognitive development and the competition of two language systems in a bilingual mind. This project seeks to investigate this phenomenon.

Principal Investigator

The project

Professor Schmid proposed that new insights can be gained by including first language attriters in the comparison - migrants who are primarily using their second language and whose first is deteriorating. These speakers acquired their first language without maturational constraints, but they experience the same impact of bilingualism and competition between languages as learners of second languages.

The project compared processing and production of grammatical gender in Dutch and German as:

  • second languages among Polish and Turkish learners
  • first languages among attriters in an English-speaking setting

Factors considered included the impact of age on acquisition/attrition among these groups. Grammatical processing was assessed through neuroimaging techniques (ERPs) and eye-tracking, while production data was based on free speech.

Key publications

Age effects in L2 grammar processing as revealed by ERPs and how (not) to study them

This study investigates the effect of age of acquisition (AoA) on grammatical processing in second language learners as measured by event-related brain potentials (ERPs). Read the abstract or the full paper in the online journal PlosOne.

Get in touch
Centre for Research in Language Development throughout the Lifespan (LaDeLi) University of Essex
Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, CO4 3SQ
Telephone: 01206 872083