A primary purpose of second language (L2) research is to determine what factors hinder or help L2 acquisition. One aspect that has a strong effect on L2 proficiency is learners' age of onset of acquisition (AOA) (Johnson & Newport, 1989). These studies and others suggest that younger learners are more adept than older learners at learning an L2, especially to a near-native level. However, some older learners can become quite proficient in an L2 (Ioup, et al. 1994; Bialystok, 1997; Bongaerts, 1999), although learners who have acquired the L2 over the age of 30 are rarely studied. Why is it that some older learners are more adept at learning a second language than others? Some argue cognitive abilities (Hyltenstam & Abrahamsson, 2002; DeKeyser, 2006) while others argue social and affective factors (Moyer, 1999) differ across the lifespan, causing younger learners to achieve a higher proficiency than older learners. Little research, however, has examined both these factors, especially in learners who acquired a language beyond early adulthood. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine 1) if there are age effects between groups of older adults learning an L2 and 2) what causes any differences found. This study examines a variety of both cognitive, affective and demographic factors that have been previously shown to affect language learning. The participants included 38 native Spanish speakers placed into four AOA groups: 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, and over 40. In order to test cognitive factors a working memory task as well as a switch task were included (Abrahamsson, 2012; Paradis, 2009). Other factors were assessed using a survey that inquired about motivation, amount of time using the L1 versus the L2, and musical ability (Slevc & Miyake, 2006). Subjects also participated in an elicited imitation task to assess global proficiency in the L2 (Erlam, 2009).Results suggest that age effects are found even in older learners. Participants with a younger AOA who spend more time speaking the L2 (English) tended to have greater proficiency in the L2. Attentional control was also a predictor.



College and Department

Humanities; Linguistics and English Language



Date Submitted


Document Type





age of acquisition, second language acquisition, cognitive, affective, demographic, ultimate L2 proficiency



Included in

Linguistics Commons