The notion of language proficiency from an aural processing perspective

TitleThe notion of language proficiency from an aural processing perspective
Publication TypePresentation
Year of Publication2004
Conference NameWorkshop on First and Second Language Acquisition
AuthorsHulstijn, Jan
PublisherNederlandse Vereniging voor Fonetische Wetenschappen
Conference LocationNijmegen, The Netherlands

Theories of first and second language acquisition must seek to explain the following two phenomena. First, whereas L1 acquisition appears to lead to full native proficiency for all learners (i.e., all mentally healthy children with normal hearing), L2 acquisition only very seldom appears to lead to native or nativelike proficiency. Second, despite the fact that L1 learners all appear to reach full native proficiency, big differences between them exist. According to Hyltenstam and Abrahamsson (2003), both biological factors (the so-called critical period) and social-psychological factors play a role in early as well as late language acquisition; however, with increasing age of onset, the impact of maturational factors diminishes, while the impact of social-psychological factors increases. Using the theory of Hyltenstam & Abrahamsson as a starting point, I will propose that we must distinguish between a core and a non-core language proficiency. The core pertains to the recognition of high-frequency words in normal speech, is acquired via a process of implicit learning, and is attainable for all L1 and L2 learners. The non-core involves forms of explicit learning, and is therefore affected by a range of social-psychological factors (intelligence, working memory capacity, vocabulary size, education). In this talk, I will present the three hypotheses, elaborate on the underlying theoretical notions, and suggest a method of how to test them empirically.