Age and language acquisition: the myth of ‘the earlier the better’ and lessons from Vietnam

Your Name and Title: June Tran

School or Organization Name: RMIT University

Co-Presenter Name(s): Thuy Thi Hieu Tran, Phuong Thi Kim Nguyen,, Huyen T. T. Nguyen, Dam Hong Do, Loan T. Nguyen, Thuy Thi Thanh Pham, Canh T. T. Truong.

Area of the World from Which You Will Present: Australia + Vietnam

Language in Which You Will Present: English

Target Audience(s): language policy makers, language teachers and students

Short Session Description (one line): Age and language acquisition: the myth of ‘the earlier the better’ and lessons from Vietnam

Full Session Description (as long as you would like):

There's a widespread belief of ‘the earlier the better’ in foreign language (FL) learning. This has led to a generous investment from both families and societies on young children FL learning, especially English learning in many countries all over the world. Nonetheless, the outcome of such investment is often under expectation.

Vietnam is not an exception. The government does also not hide its ambitious aim of boosting the English proficiency level for young Vietnamese to increase the competitiveness of the country in the world economy. Since 2008 the government has generously agreed to invest 9,400 billion Vietnamese dongs (about 570 million USD in 2008) to implement the Decision No. 1400/QĐ-TTG “Teaching and Learning Foreign Languages in the National Education System, Period 2008 to 2020” (MOET, 2008) with the key goal as: ‘by the year 2020 most Vietnamese youth whoever graduate from vocational schools, colleges and universities gain the capacity to use a foreign language independently’.

Despite huge investment and effort, and ambitious expectation from governments, schools and families, the English proficiency level among young Vietnamese has remained disappointing. Until today, the mean score of the English tests in High School Final Exams has remained below average mark and around 70% to nearly 90% of students often gain below the average mark in this test.

This article aims to explore the reasons behind this disappointing failure. It will first explore the international literature in the area of early language acquisition and the myth behind the Critical Period Hypothesis  in FL learning. Then, a qualitative research interviewing English teachers – the key actors in this innovation movement - revealed interesting findings. The loudest message was that early investment in FL teaching and learning would not lead to a positive outcome if other related factors such as the level of input or the type and amount of exposure to the target language, student motivation, teacher quality, the teaching and learning facility and infrastructure are not equally concerned and invested.

Objectives and outcomes for participants: This presentation, hopefully, will draw participants' attention and awareness to different factors affecting children's FL learning. It also aims to pose a warning that if these factors are not taken into consideration, the early investment in FL learning will not bring about an expected outcome.

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Thank you for your proposal. Please review our mission and consider editing your proposal to reflect ties to our focus: We are not a general education conference nor an ICT conference; all proposals must have some international component that is clearly referenced in the proposal. You may want to look at accepted proposals to see some examples:

Let me know when you've made changes to your proposal, and I'll review it again.

Thank you,

Lucy Gray

Conference Co-Chair

Please also make sure the objectives and outcomes for participants are clear in your proposal.


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