Is younger really better? Anxiety about learning a foreign language in Turkish children
Esim Gürsoy (Uludağ University) and Feride Akın (Göynükbelen Primary School, Turkey), 2013, 41(5), 827–842

It’s widely purported that language learning is easier when begun at a younger age, particularly while children are still progressing through the early critical phases of mental development. However, it is not as clear at what point anxiety about learning a new language starts to occur. In this study, Gürsoy and Akın focused on adolescents aged between 10 and 14 years, and used both qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the relationship between age and foreign language learning anxiety. The younger children exhibited lower levels of anxiety about learning English, and the authors suggested that this may be because older children have more inhibitions and affective filters, which cause them to be less open to learning.

An observation that I believe is key to this study’s framework is the authors’ statement that “one of the aims of beginning to teach children a foreign language at an early age is to help them develop a positive attitude toward the foreign language” (p. 839). Notably, examinations, which are the primary method of learning assessment that is used in Turkey (and many other countries!), caused the most anxiety about accurate English expression across all of the assessed age groups. This detracted from the children’s positive attitude toward language learning and raises the question of whether such formal testing techniques are optimally effective for use in this context, especially among younger adolescents. Alternative methods, such as holding conversations, may reduce this anxiety, and arguably have an advantage over written tests in practical situations, e.g., when traveling.

Sarah Krivan Marketing Manager
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal