This paper reports the results of a semi-longitudinal study investigating the role of age of onset in early foreign language (English) learning. We compared two groups of Danish school children (N = 276) who, following an educational reform in 2014, started their first English classes the same year but at different ages. One group (the early starters) was introduced to English in the 1 st grade (age 7-8) and the other group (the late starters) in the 3 rd grade (age 9-10). Children's receptive vocabulary, receptive grammar, and phonetic discrimination skills were followed for three years, allowing comparisons across groups and time and tracking learning rate and short-term proficiency (after one and two years of instruction). Results showed that the late starters outperformed the early starters in most tests. With respect to learning rate, the tests also revealed that the late starters had an advantage in the receptive grammar test, whereas the phonetic discrimination test showed a more diffuse picture with the late starters seemingly halting in development and the early starters advancing. The results also showed gender differences with boys achieving a higher level of proficiency and exhibiting a faster learning rate than girls. The pedagogical implications of the results are discussed.
- Early foreign language learning
- Phonetic discrimination
- Receptive grammar
- Receptive vocabulary
- Semi-longitudinal study