新概念雙語:研究顯示 想學外語到18歲都不算晚
來源: 環球網校 2020-05-22 12:54:57 頻道:


The older you get the more difficult it is to learn to speak French like a Parisian. But no one knows exactly what the cutoff point is—at what age it becomes harder, for instance, to pick up noun-verb agreements in a new language. In one of the largest linguistics studies ever conducted—a viral internet survey that drew two thirds of a million respondents—researchers from three Boston-based universities showed children are proficient at learning a second language up until the age of 18, roughly 10 years later than earlier estimates. But the study also showed that it is best to start by age 10 if you want to achieve the grammatical fluency of a native speaker.


搜狐彩票投注To parse this problem, the research team, which included psychologist Steven Pinker, collected data on a person’s current age, language proficiency and time studying English. The investigators calculated they needed more than half a million people to make a fair estimate of when the “critical period” for achieving the highest levels of grammatical fluency ends. So they turned to the world’s greatest experimental subject pool: the internet.

為了分析這個問題,研究團隊需要收集的信息有:受調查者的年齡、語言流利程度、開始學習英語的時間等。研究人員們他們計算得出,為了更客觀地得到這個關鍵時間點,他們需要超過50萬份數據。鑒于數據量龐大,研究團隊把調查目標轉到了互聯網。談及這項調查為什么能得到這么多人的支持時,主要研究者之一,波士頓學院的心理學助理教授Josh Hartshorne分享了他們的經驗。

搜狐彩票投注They created a short online grammar quiz called Which English? that tested noun–verb agreement, pronouns, prepositions and relative clauses, among other linguistic elements. From the responses, an algorithm predicted the tester’s native language and which dialect of English (that is, Canadian, Irish, Australian) they spoke. For example, some of the questions included phrases a Chicagoan would deem grammatically incorrect but a Manitoban would think is perfectly acceptable English.

他們開發了一套名為“Which English?”的線上測試,測試內容包括代詞,介詞和關系從句等一些基礎的語法。由于各地英語語法存在一些差異,所以在答題者回答完問題后,算法就能預測答題者的母語以及所屬的英語方言區。例如,一些問題中會包含芝加哥人認為不太對而馬尼托人覺得一點問題都沒有的短語。

The researchers got a huge response by providing respondents with “something that is intrinsically rewarding,” says Josh Hartshorne, an assistant professor of psychology at Boston College, who led the study while he was a postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The small gift to the respondents was a guess about their background. According to Hartshorne: “If it correctly figures out that you are in fact a German-American, people are like, ‘Oh my god, science is awesome!’ And when it’s wrong, they’re like, ‘Ha ha, stupid robot.’ Either way, it’s entertaining and interesting and something that they can think about and talk about with their friends.”


搜狐彩票投注Hartshorne’s tactic worked. At its peak, the quiz attracted 100,000 hits a day. It was shared 300,000 times on Facebook, made the front page of Reddit and became a trending topic on 4chan, where a thoughtful discussion ensued about how the algorithm could determine dialect from the grammar questions. The study brought in native speakers of 38 different languages, including 1 percent of Finland’s population.

實踐證明, Hartshorne教授這個主意起到了很好的效果。這個測試在最高峰的一天有10萬的點擊量,在Facebook上總計被分享了30萬次,在reddit登上了首頁,在4chan成為了熱搜話題。人們就這個算法如何從測試題中判斷出回答者的方言區討論得不亦樂乎。最終,總共有說38種語言的當地人參與了進來,其中包括了芬蘭1%的人口。

搜狐彩票投注Based on people’s grammar scores and information about their learning of English, the researchers developed models that predicted how long it takes to become fluent in a language and the best age to start learning. They concluded that the ability to learn a new language, at least grammatically, is strongest until the age of 18 after which there is a precipitous decline. To become completely fluent, however, learning should start before the age of 10.


There are three main ideas as to why language-learning ability declines at 18: social changes, interference from one’s primary language and continuing brain development. At 18, kids typically graduate high school and go on to start college or enter the work force full-time. Once they do, they may no longer have the time, opportunity or learning environment to study a second language like they did when they were younger. Alternatively, it is possible that after one masters a first language, its rules interfere with the ability to learn a second. Finally, changes in the brain that continue during the late teens and early 20s may somehow make learning harder.


This is not to say that we cannot learn a new language if we are over 20. There are numerous examples of people who pick up a language later in life, and our ability to learn new vocabulary appears to remain constant, but most of us will not be able to master grammar like a native speaker—or probably sound like one either. Being a written quiz, the study could not test for accent, but prior research places the critical period for speech sounds even earlier.


Although the study was conducted only in English, the researchers believe the findings will transfer to other languages, and they are currently developing similar tests for Spanish and Mandarin.


搜狐彩票投注Perhaps even more important than when one learns a language is how. People who learned via immersion—living in an English-speaking country more than 90 percent of the time—were significantly more fluent than those who learned in a class. Hartshorne says that if you have the choice between starting language lessons earlier or learning through immersion later, “I’d learn in an immersion environment. Immersion has an enormous effect in our data—large even relative to fairly large differences in age.”


In what could be the most surprising conclusion, the researchers say that even among native speakers it takes 30 years to fully master a language. The study showed a slight improvement—roughly one percentage point—in people who have been speaking English for 30 versus 20 years. The finding is consistent for both native and non-native speakers.


搜狐彩票投注Charles Yang, a computational linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, says this finding does not surprise him, given the sophisticated grammar rules that we do not pick up until our teenage years—how to change an adjective into a noun, for instance. “These are going to be very fine-grained details in the language,” he says. “You’re learning new words and you’re learning some morphological endings when you’re quite old, you know, in the teenage years.”

來自賓夕法尼亞大學的計算語言學家Charles Yang則表示,18歲這個結論并不讓他感到驚訝,因為人們在10歲以前通常不會學很復雜的語法規則。比如說把形容詞轉換為名詞,像句法和形態這樣的細節我們通常都是在有比較大之后才開始學習的。

The enthusiasm for the study is not shared by everyone in the field. Elissa Newport, a professor of neurology at Georgetown University who specializes in language acquisition, remains a skeptic. “Most of the literature finds that learning the syntax and morphology of a language is done in about five years, not 30,” she says. “The claim that it takes 30 years to learn a language just doesn’t fit with any other findings.”

當然也有研究人員對研究結果持異議,來自喬治敦大學的神經學專家Elissa Newport教授,結合她平日里對語言習得的研究,表示“30年才能完全掌握一門語言”這個結論明顯和其他研究結果都不一致,有文獻表明學習一門語言的句法和形態大約需要5年。

Newport says that although the premise of the study—seeking critical periods for learning a language—is warranted, she thinks the surprising results emerged because the measure the researchers used is flawed. “Testing 600,000 people doesn’t give you a dependable, reliable outcome” if you’re not asking the right questions, she says. Instead of creating a new test, Newport says she would have preferred the researchers use an existing assessment of language proficiency to ensure they are really gauging how well people know English.


Hartshorne is hoping to re-create the success of Which English? in a new online vocabulary test, but says he has struggled to create the same level of viral response because people are less willing to share their results if they perform poorly. “When you find out, ‘I’m in the 99th percentile of vocabulary,’ you’re like, ‘Okay, click, share.’ But you know 50 percent of people are below average. And they’re going to be less likely to want to share that.”

Hartshorne希望在一個新的在線單詞測試上重現“Which English?”的成功。但他同時也承認這將很難,因為當人們在測試中沒有獲得足夠好的成績得時候,就傾向于不把這個測試分享給別人。而不可避免的將有一半人分數在平均分以下,這將不利于測試的傳播和進行。