15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-15)

Barcelona, Spain
August 3-9, 2003

Evaluating the "Critical Period" Hypothesis: Perceptual Learning of Mandarin Tones in American Adults and American Children at 6, 10 and 14 Years of Age

Yue Wang (1), Patricia K. Kuhl (2)

(1) University at Buffalo, USA
(2) University of Washington, USA

In this study, we examined the perceptual learning of lexical tones in Mandarin Chinese by American young adults, and children from 6 to 14 years old, covering the age range surrounding the "critical period".
   The participants received a two-week computerized Mandarin tone training program designed to be child-friendly. The results showed that, for the trainees in each of the four age groups but not the controls, percent correct identification increased significantly from the pre-training test to the post-training test, indicating significant improvement after training across age groups. However, comparing the pre-puberty and the post-puberty groups, we did not find an abrupt decrease in the degree of improvement, as would have been predicted by the Critical Period Hypothesis. These results support the view that language learning is not a strictly timed developmental process with rigid cut-off periods.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Wang, Yue / Kuhl, Patricia K. (2003): "Evaluating the "critical period" hypothesis: perceptual learning of Mandarin tones in American adults and American children at 6, 10 and 14 years of age", In ICPhS-15, 1537-1540.