Language, Culture and Cognition: A Collection of Studies in First and Second Language Acquisition

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The results of non-parametric statistical tests and qualitative analyses suggest that: 1 the learning of an additional language in the third age can contribute to healthy and active aging, as it has a positive effect on executive function, linguistic self-confidence, autonomy, communicative skills and overall well-being, irrespective of age and prior language knowledge bilingualism ; and 2 age-related social, psychological and contextual factors seem to play as significant a role as strictly maturational factors.

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Such research promises in due course to inform adult educators about the establishment of relevant third-age learner profiles as well as the design of individualized third-age language training. At the same time, international migration will continue to impact on the demographics of numerous countries in Europe and elsewhere. Such individuals may occupy their time in retirement in ways such as traveling, taking up new hobbies and learning new — and potentially complex — skills.

1. Introduction

The growth of professional, educational and individual mobility internationally creates the desire for travelers and migrants to communicate comfortably in languages not well known to them — for which the present-day third-age generation is on the whole ill-equipped Gabrys-Barker, Meanwhile, in cognitive psychology, second language L2 learning is signaled as a promising way of contributing to healthy and active aging, promoting neural plasticity and fostering social interactions and individual mobility and autonomy e.

Antoniou et al. Although interest in the topic of language learning in the third age dates back to the s e. Additionally, research methodologies vary greatly, including, e. Lenet et al. These studies have mostly been conducted in North America, Asia and Latin America, although the topic is also gaining momentum in Europe e. Kliesch et al. Having in mind the goal of motivating further research into third age foreign language FL learning in Europe, we conducted a small-scale pilot study exploring whether age-advanced EFL learners would show FL gains, cognitive benefits and increased overall well-being following four weeks of EFL training in a school context in the L1 community, and whether this might be related to biological age or previous language-learning experience bilingualism.


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  7. Introduction.

Our goal was to identify the factors that determine the FL learning success of 12 older adults, on the one hand, and the question of how language learning benefits them on the other. Data from such a longitudinal investigation 1 would make a substantial contribution to research on late FL learning as well as cognitive aspects of healthy aging; it would also help crucially in establishing learner profiles and in optimally designing individualized language training.

Age-related declines are widely believed to continue across the lifespan. This kind of account often refers to a slowing of processing speed Salthouse, , reduced working memory capacity e. Lindenberger, , a decrease in attention e. Goral et al. Such age-related decline has been reported to be preceded by structural changes, such as a loss of functional brain connectivity, cortical thinning or the decline of white matter integrity e. Damoiseaux et al.

There are also counter-arguments. On the one hand, the neurocognitive aging literature on the whole suggests that the brain preserves large parts of its plasticity even at an advanced age and remains receptive towards new languages e. The above evidence may not necessarily index aging or decline but may simply reflect the predictable outcome of the cumulative experience of learning i. An accumulating body of evidence in the domain of linguistic cognition e. Ramscar and colleagues indicates no neurobiological evidence for any declines in the processing capacities of healthy older adults, except where there is evidence of pathology.

Ramscar et al. There thus seems to be a relationship between early bilingualism and more efficient later language learning, owing to a wider availability of language-learning strategies and the consequent capacity to attain both general language proficiency e. Adesope et al. However, substantial evidence questioning this bilingual advantage at the behavioral and neural level has emerged, relating to the multifaceted experience of the bilinguals in question, including lifestyle factors, but also to methodological inconsistencies e.

Paap et al. Thus, it has been suggested that the bilingual advantage reported is a finding circumscribed by specific and unclear situations, and that it does not extend in general to lifelong bilingual third agers or to neo-bilingual third agers see e.

[WS106] Emotions in Language, Culture, Cognition

Bak et al. This late bilingual experience seemed to result in an advantage for some and an overloading effect for others; i. While all participants showed significant gains in accuracy on tasks that required interpretation written and aural , grammaticality judgment, and production written , bilinguals showed an advantage over monolinguals, regardless of instructional condition.

Even more important for our study is the still open question of whether the effects of long-term bilingual experience on executive functions are comparable to those of short-term FL training in a school context. Andrew, If third agers accept ageist stereotypes from the culture including community or family as valid, self-stereotyping occurs, which may occasion physical, emotional, and cognitive declines see Knowles et al. By contrast, some scholars have remarked that many older students — whatever their subject matter of choice — return to the classroom with excitement and very high motivation levels, which may lead to a substantial increase in well-being Ware et al.

However, there are only a few behavioral and neurocognitive studies investigating the impact of intensive L2 language training on cognitive or socio-affective functions in older adults and vice versa. First results of such intervention studies suggest that:. The main goal of the study is to provide preliminary data to promote further investigations in this area and to test the feasibility of EFL training and a variety of measures.

Essentials of a Theory of Language Cognition

Cognitive pre- and posttests will enable us to test Antoniou et al. In order to address the various learner differences in the context of SLA and senescence, two groups of right-handed healthy participants were recruited who had no previous English-learning experience. Initially 19 participants signed up for the course, but only 12 of these 8 F, 4 M completed the four-week intensive English course.

The second group was our active control group of six older adults aged 63, 65, 72, 72, and 84 , raised in a monolingual Austrian context with no more than school knowledge of any language other than German. Participants in both groups voluntarily signed up for the language course. They were retired by the time they took part in the study, did not report any musical training, neurological disease, language disorder or learning disability, and had no cerebral degradation as measured by the concentration test for geriatric patients, see below.

Two points are important to emphasize here. On the one hand, studies involving cognitive training programs ideally include a passive control group, in order to be able to test the efficacy of the training and also to dissociate the effects of different cognitively demanding types of training and to explore repetition effects Ramos et al.

However, we believe that the lack of such an additional control group does not diminish the impact of the current findings, given the nature of our research questions e. Also, it is important to note that it was not the objective of this study to recruit as large a sample as possible.

Psycholinguistic and SLA researchers, both quantitative and qualitative, have a tendency to restrict themselves to just one particular notion of generalizability — namely, a statistical, sampling-based notion — whilst ignoring theoretical generalizability, that is, the effort to shed empirical light on theoretical concepts or principles, thus yielding insights of potentially wider relevance and theoretical significance.

Theoretical generalization seeks depth rather than breadth in its scope and analysis, an approach that is much needed in this area of SLA. In this sense, our focus is not so much on determining how L2 learning differs, such as in older adults versus younger adults, as on exploring the factors e. In one of our earlier pilot studies Kliesch et al. On the basis of these results, we hypothesized that an intensive English training of four weeks, with three lessons of two hours a week i. All participants began the study by giving informed consent and completed a comprehensive language background questionnaire.

However, the lesson plans needed continual adjustment.

How language shapes the way we think - Lera Boroditsky

To this end, suitable teaching materials and methods were created, and the teaching pace was constantly adapted. The main goal was to teach the comprehension and use of familiar everyday expressions and very simple phrases to communicate basic needs. Finally, it is important to mention that the participants in the experimental group wrote down and repeated the new vocabulary not only in English FL and German L1 , but also in Slovenian their other L1.

Event Representation in Language and Cognition : Jurgen Bohnemeyer :

Data collection generally took place at three points of time: at the beginning of the course T1 , after two weeks T2 and at the end T3 , although some tests were administered before and after each class. There are two advantages in using the written modality to test general L2 skills in third age learners: first, the performance in listening comprehension tasks is likely to be affected by individual differences in hearing loss, which are known to affect even language comprehension in L1 see e.

Giroud et al. Second, both speech comprehension and production rely heavily on processing speed and working memory capacity, both of which have been shown to be reduced in older adults see literature review. At each measurement, all tests were pseudo-randomized between individuals and performed in one session. Different versions of language tests were used to assess skills that were trained in the course and could therefore be expected to improve with time.

Cognitive Linguistics and its Applications to Second Language Teaching

The tests were administered at T2 and T3 and addressed both language production and language reception, as well as both aspects that are susceptible to aging e. Johnstone, We administered the C-Test to assess grammatical production skills e. Aguado et al. At T1 the test included 70 gaps; the participants were given three points for correct answers meaning a max. Two points were given for an answer with an orthographic spelling error e. At T3 the participants had to fill in gaps max. Receptive vocabulary was assessed using an odd-one-out task as well as an association task in both post-tests.

In the odd-one-out task eight words and 10 words respectively were presented visually at T2 and T3, and participants were asked to identify the odd-one-out lexical item. In the association task participants had to underline all the words that did not fit the umbrella term.


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  • In the latter test, the participant has to focus on the position and pattern of symbols on a sheet of paper and has to find and mark every symbol that has the same position and pattern as the symbol given at the top of the sheet. The time needed as well as the correctly and incorrectly marked symbols are assessed. The test also provides information regarding the different stages of dementia; a criterion for a cerebral deterioration process would be a change in the ability to concentrate.

    In Kliesch et al. In order to account for the socio-affective dimension of FL learning in a classroom setting, we administered a questionnaire with 27 open-ended items, one closed-ended item and one question that required drawing a motivation curve so as to evaluate learning experiences, motivation, attitudes, overall well-being, personal goal-setting, age negotiations, the construction of aging identities, autonomy, L2 awareness, anxiety, expectations, self-confidence and learning strategies. The questionnaire was administered at T3 and consisted of the following main dimensions:.

    A high score indicates a positive mood; the person feels comfortable, cheerful and satisfied. Because of inherent task differences, performance can differ across tasks see Bak et al. For this reason, we did not calculate a composite score for the subtests, but rather analyzed each subtest separately. The data were analyzed in accordance with their properties by Wilcoxon tests and Mann-Whitney U -tests.

    Furthermore, effect sizes were calculated for the difference between two median values suitable for the Mann-Whitney U -test and the Wilcoxon test from the standardized test statistics of tests z and the number of cases n. At the first step, the responses were read separately multiple times. Second, the ideas expressed in the written responses were regrouped into themes.

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