Addressing 'The Age Factor': Some Implications for Language Policy


Richard Johnstone, Scottish CILT




In view of the major political, economic, social and cultural changes which are sweeping across Europe , The Council of Europe decided to publish a series of 10 expert papers which set out the international research basis underlying key aspects of languages policy. The intention is that the expert papers will be of use to key decision-makers in the 60+ states with which the Council of Europe is associated.

Professor Richard Johnstone was commissioned to write one of the expert papers. The topic he was asked to address is the role of the 'age factor' in learning a second or additional language. Is it true, for example, that ‘the younger = the better'? Or, do older learners possess certain advantages?

The report reviews the main international research and presents a number of practical conclusions which policy-makers are invited to consider when taking decisions not only on the most appropriate age at which to start but also on the sorts of condition that need to be met if an early start is to be successful.




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