Foreign language learning in the third age: A pilot feasibility study on cognitive, socio-affective and linguistic drivers and benefits in relation to previous bilingualism of the learner
KeywordsThird Age Learners
Foreign Language Learning
Special aspects of education
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AbstractWhile there is a growing body of research on second language acquisition in children and prime-of-life learners, much remains to be explored about how older adults learn a new language and how good additional language learning is for them (see e.g. Mackey & Sachs, 2012). In this study we present the findings of a longitudinal pilot study in which 12 German-speaking subjects, half of them German-Slovenian bilinguals, between 63 and 90 years of age attended a four-week intensive English course for beginners, and were tested in a pre-/post-test design on a range of linguistic, cognitive, and socio-affective parameters. 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. 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.