Adult Second Language Speakers Who Pass off as Native Speakers: Seeking Plausible Explanations from a Network of Interdisciplinary Research

Zakaria Ahmad Abuhamdia


Normal infants and young children who are exposed to a second language over a substantial period of years in its natural interactive community grow up to speak the second language with the native accent of that language. This is a universal observation, commonly giving rise to a common belief that children ‘are better than adults at language learning’. In some cases, the second language may even replace the first language. By default, being exposed to another language after that ‘early’ age generally leads to speaking that language with a foreign accent. The common explanation for the foreign accent is brain sensory-motor maturity in neural pathways. The phenomenon of foreign accent has received and continues to attract research. On the other hand, a relatively small group of adults present a native-accent pattern. They sound native although they learned the second language at an older age, after the 'critical period' (CP) and/or under less natural contexts. This research focuses on this ‘phenomenal’ group of speakers. The rationale of the focus stems from the fact that these cases are documented in research (e.g., Munoz and Singleton, 2007 and Scovel, 1978) as partial evidence against CP age limits on the plasticity of the human brain for sound perception and sound production.

Key words: foreign accent, accent free speech, adult second language speakers, brain structure, brain function

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