Some seven per cent of the population of Finland took part in the recent critical-age study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a new analysis by the Gazette reveals.
Almost 40,000 Finns were among the 700,000 people to take the syntax quiz which formed the basis of the American study reported last month.
The sample included 400,000 non-native speakers, representing 6,000 mother tongues – the largest dataset that anyone has prepared for a study of language-learning. The most common native languages other than English were Finnish at 13 per cent, followed by Turkish (12 per cent) and German, (8 per cent).
To establish whether first language had an effect on learning outcomes, the researchers allocated the individual L1s into language families.
Overall, they found no significant difference in grammatical attainment between the language families, but differences were noticed based on the age of first exposure.
For example, among those who began studying English from birth, the best-performing language group was Romance.
The best learners who began when they were between six and 10 years old were the Chinese.
In other demographic findings, female participants from any sample group and participants with post-secondary education achieved higher accuracy in English language acquisition.
⇒ A critical period for second language acquisition: J.K. Hartshorne, J. B Tenenbaum, S. Pinker, MIT. tinyurl.com/yctdpa6