Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Does Age Matter?: The Acquisition of Spanish Rhotics and Voiceless Stops by Child Learners


Modern Languages & Literatures Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Arts and Humanities


The Critical Period Hypothesis posits a timeframe during which language acquisition is optimal; those who begin acquiring a language prior to the onset of puberty are often considered to have a greater likelihood of acquiring native-like proficiency. A substantial body of research suggests that the earlier exposure to a second language occurs, the more native-like pronunciation is in the long run (e.g., DeKeyser, 2000; Flege, MacKay & Meador, 1999; Hojen & Flege, 2006; Munro, Flege, & MacKay, 1996; Scovel, 1969). However, most of this research has investigated the acquisition of pronunciation in a second language environment, not the foreign language context. Moreover, few studies have explored phonological acquisition by second language learners exposed to the second language via classroom instruction. This study addresses this issue by examining the pronunciation of 85 Spanish immersion students. Participants include a cross-sectional sample of one-way (foreign language) and two-way (bilingual) immersion students as well as a native Spanish-speaking peer group. Participants were recorded carrying out an animal picture sorting task in pairs. Learner productions of word-medial rhotics, /r, /, and voiceless stops, /p, t, k/, are considered in this investigation. Both sound classes were analyzed acoustically in Praat. Rhotic productions were examined and coded for manner of articulation (tap, trill, assibilated, alveolar approximant, non-English like approximant, other); the voice onset time (VOT) of the voiceless stops was measured in milliseconds. Learner productions were compared to those of native Spanish-speaking peers. Preliminary findings suggest that learners were somewhat accurate in their production of the Spanish tap; the rate of accuracy was greater in the upper grade levels. In contrast, they were relatively inaccurate in their production of the Spanish trill, /r/. The voice onset of time of learners productions of /p, t, k/ tended to fall within the ranges reported in the literature. The findings of this study will be compared to those from adult learners of Spanish in classroom contexts as well as those from work with child language learners in second language settings. The implications of these findings for second language learning in classroom environments will be explored.

Conference Name

Current Approaches to Spanish and Portuguese Second Language Phonology

Conference Location

Washington, D. C.

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