As native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States, I recognize that I was lucky to have acquired this language inside of the linguistic window of opportunity. With more exceptions to most rules than one can count, English is a daunting language to pick up. Though it shares roots with the other romance languages like Spanish, French and Italian, the nuances and intricacies are both plentiful and often seemingly arbitrary.
The Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) outlines the linguistic theory that children develop language capability most easily between the age of 5 and the onset of puberty. Language acquisition is still possible outside of this period, though is considerably more difficult.
With this in mind, I am constantly impressed with the Chinese exchange students who participate in the University of Oregon’s Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS) program, for which I am the writing assistant. Under grad and graduate students from China participate in an internship that accompanies an English immersion course to improve written and oral communication.
Each week, I am tasked with reading, editing, and grading the essays written by these students and I am constantly surprised by the grace with which they handle such a difficult second language.
The students take my corrections and absorb the new rules into their next essay with noticeable improvement. The drastic change in quality and correctness from the beginning of the course to its conclusion is truly astounding, and allows me the special opportunity to see the difference I am making.
The students are incredibly grateful to the CASLS staff, and it is exceedingly gratifying to know that they are leaving the program with the written skills necessary to land a job or an internship in a country that is so critical of non-native speakers.
An accent is the mark of someone who has conquered the Critical Period Hypothesis, and I am constantly impressed.