Global age of acquisition of L1 and L2 in individual speakers has been investigated as a deterministic factor in nativelikeness of grammatical knowledge and lexical processing. The age of acquisition of individual words has also been shown to affect both native and nonnative lexical access. Given the centrality of the lexicon to language acquisition and use, this study investigated which of these variables is most relevant and how these two variables may potentially interact during lexical access of the less dominant language in bilinguals. A group of English-speaking late L2 learners of Spanish and a group of early bilingual speakers who were exposed to Spanish as an L1 at home and learned English in childhood (heritage speakers) completed a lexical decision task in Spanish and an English-Spanish translation decision task. The performance of the two groups, which vary on global age of acquisition of Spanish, but not on language dominance, was compared. The results indicated no differences in the overall accuracy of lexical access according to global age of acquisition of L1 and L2, though the L2 learners responded more quickly than the heritage speakers in both tasks. The results differed within each participant group depending on word age of acquisition, with heritage speakers showing a speed and accuracy advantage for words learned early in L1 Spanish and L2 learners showing an advantage for words learned early in L2 Spanish. Based on these findings, it is argued that it is the language experience along with word age of acquisition that determines lexical processing of the weaker language, whether in L1 or L2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)274-303
Number of pages30
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Age of acquisition
  • L2 learners
  • Spanish
  • heritage speakers
  • lexical access

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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