Reader James Schipper sent this to me:
Let’s take Peter, Paul and Patrick.
Peter spent the first 6 years of his live in an exclusively German-speaking environment and after that in a totally English-speaking environment. He is now 26 years old.
Paul spent the first 6 years of his life in a totally English-speaking environment, then 6 years in an exclusively German-speaking environment and after that in a completely English-speaking environment again. He is now 32.
Patrick spent the first 12 years among unilingual English-speakers, then 6 years in a totally German-speaking environment and after that in a completely English-speaking environment again. He is now 38.
So, all 3 men were immersed in German during 6 years, and all 3 have been away from German for 20 years. Assuming that the 3 men have the same IQ and linguistic ability, which one would know the most German today, do you think? I would bet on Patrick.
Actually, I would argue Peter, Paul and then Patrick. Nothing beats early exposure, and the earlier the better.
I have an interesting story along those lines. Two women were raised in a Chinese-speaking environment as very young girls, then transitioned somehow to an English-speaking environment. They somehow picked up enough Chinese to be fluent.
As adults, they went to China and were able to speak Chinese well with the Chinese people. They could also understand the spoken Chinese around them. But people kept laughing at them. The Chinese said that their Chinese was good Chinese all right, except that it was what they call “baby talk.” The girls had only learned how to speak Chinese like a little kid speaks it, not as an adult speaks it.