The Robustness of Aptitude Effects in Near-native Second Language Acquisition
Results from a number of recent studies suggest that nativelike adult second language (L2) learners possess a high degree of language learning aptitude, the positive effects of which may have compensated for the negative effects of a critical period in these learners. According to the same studies, child learners seem to attain a nativelike command of the L2 regardless of high or low aptitude, which has led researchers to conclude that this factor plays no role in early acquisition. The present study investigates the L2 proficiency and language aptitude of 42 near-native L2 speakers of Swedish (i.e., individuals whom actual mother-tongue speakers of Swedish believe are native speakers). The results confirm previous research suggesting that a high degree of language aptitude is required if adult learners are to reach a L2 proficiency that is indistinguishable from that of native speakers. However, in contrast to previous studies, the present results also identify small yet significant aptitude effects in child SLA. Our findings lead us to the conclusions that the rare nativelike adult learners sometimes observed would all turn out to be exceptionally talented language learners with an unusual ability to compensate for maturational effects and, consequently, that their nativelikeness per se does not constitute a reason to reject the critical period hypothesis.