Importance Of Language Acquisition During Critical Period

I was interested in language acquisition by deaf individuals in order to understand if language development through signing is as innate as language development through speaking. My research led me to an article that discussed the critical period of language development for those that are deaf. It has been proven for language speakers that there is a critical period when it is essential to learn the language, and after this time period it becomes more and more difficult for the brain to comprehend language and learn how to communicate. The question that the article asked was threefold, first is sign language easy for others to learn, second is there a critical period for sign language learners (do individuals that learn to sign later in their life show less proficiency then native signers) and third is development of language during your adolescence improve your development of sign language (does any sort of language development during the critical period improve you ability to sign and understand sign language).

Is sign language easy to learn?
This question was brought about by a teacher of sign language who believed that it was important to teach deaf students to mouth read and understand spoken language before learning to sign. The researchers tested the hypothesis by measuring understanding of sign language by native learners (deaf students raised with deaf parents who learned to sing from a young age) and non-native learners. The native learners performed much better than the deaf students showing that learning sign language at a young age is important for development.

Second two questions
The basic answer to the final two questions was that having language development of any sort during the critical period improved signing ability. Students that learned to sign at a later age were much slower in their comprehension and speed of recognition of signing. Also, native learners made less errors in their signing techniques and their overall comprehension.

The answer to the third question was very interesting. There were three research groups, 1) native learners of ASL, 2) deaf individuals who learned ASL at a late age, 9-13, and 3) individuals who had learned spoken language at a young age and then became deaf and learned ASL, secondary ASL learners. Overall comprehension was improved due to previous language acquisition. Secondary ASL learners performed at a higher comprehension level then late language learners.

What does it mean?
Language is dynamic and early knowledge during the critical period of language acquisition is essential for language development whether deaf or not. With this research it becomes apparent that the critical period for language acquisition should be used for language development, practice and knowledge. Later, it becomes possible and easier to teach students a secondary language since they have a primary language to base the new knowledge on.

Page created by George Hughes-Strange

Mayberry, R. (1998). The critical period for language acquisition and the deaf child’s language comprehension: A psycholinguistic approach. [.pdf] Bulletin d'Audiophonologie: Annales Scientifiques de L'Université de Franche-Comté, 15, 349-358.