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The Critical Period Hypothesis for Language Learning: What the 2000 US Census Says

  • Chiswick, Barry R.

    ()

    (George Washington University)

  • Miller, Paul W.

    (Curtin University)

A critical period for language learning is often defined as a sharp decline in learning outcomes with age. This study examines the relevance of the critical period to English proficiency among immigrants in the US. It uses microdata from the 2000 US Census, a model of language acquisition from the economics and sociology literatures, and a flexible specification of an estimating equation based on 64 age-at-migration dichotomous variables. It shows that self-reported English language speaking proficiency among immigrants declines more-or-less monotonically with age at migration, and this relationship is not characterized by any sharp decline or discontinuity that might be considered consistent with a “critical” period. The findings are robust across the various immigrant samples, and between the genders.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 2575.

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Length: 37 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2007
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as "A Test of the Critical Period Hypothesis for Language Learning" in: Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 2008, 29 (1), 16-29
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp2575
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  1. Chiswick, Barry R. & Miller, Paul W., 2003. "The complementarity of language and other human capital: immigrant earnings in Canada," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(5), pages 469-480, October.
  2. GINSBURGH, Victor & ORTUNO-ORTIN, Ignatio & WEBER, Shlomo, . "Disenfranchisement in linguistically diverse societies: the case of the European Union," CORE Discussion Papers RP -1773, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  3. Chiswick, Barry R. & Miller, Paul W., 2007. "Modeling Immigrants' Language Skills," IZA Discussion Papers 2974, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Chiswick, Barry R & Miller, Paul W, 1995. "The Endogeneity between Language and Earnings: International Analyses," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(2), pages 246-88, April.
  5. Barry R. Chiswick & Yew Liang Lee & Paul W. Miller, 2002. "Family Matters: The Role of the Family in Immigrants' Destination Language Acquisition," Economics Discussion / Working Papers 02-06, The University of Western Australia, Department of Economics.
  6. Cortes, Kalena E., 2004. "Are Refugees Different from Economic Immigrants? Some Empirical Evidence on the Heterogeneity of Immigrant Groups in the United States," IZA Discussion Papers 1063, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Chiswick, Barry R. & Miller, Paul W., 2004. "Linguistic Distance: A Quantitative Measure of the Distance Between English and Other Languages," IZA Discussion Papers 1246, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Barry Chiswick & Yew Lee & Paul Miller, 2005. "“Parents and Children Talk: English Language Proficiency within Immigrant Families”," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 3(3), pages 243-268, 09.
  9. Kalena E. Cortes, 2004. "Are Refugees Different from Economic Immigrants? Some Empirical Evidence on the Heterogeneity of Immigrant Groups in the United States," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 86(2), pages 465-480, May.
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