Tag Archives: Adult Learners

The 6 Factors that Reduce Cognitive Decline in Old Age and the 4 Factors that Predict Earlier-than-average Decline

Researchers have identified 6 risk factors that everyone should be aware of. The following variables reduce the risk of cognitive decline in old age according to Merriam, Gafarella & Baumgartner (2007, Learning in Adulthood, p. 371)

  1. absence of cardiovuscular and other chronic diseases
  2. living in favorable environmental circumstances
  3. substantial involvement in activities
  4. maintenance of high levels of perceptual processing speed into old age
  5. being married to a spouse of high cognitive status
  6. rating one’s self as satisfied with one’s life

Schaie et al (1994, Perceived Intellectual Performance Change over Seven Years. Journal of gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 49(3), 103-118) cited by Merriam, Gafarella & Baumgartner (2007, Learning in Adulthood, p. 371) identified 4 factors that predict earlier-than-average cognitive decline

  1. significant decrease in being flexible in one’s approach to life
  2. low educational attainment
  3. being male
  4. a low satisfaction with life success

It is certainly worth emphasizing that it clearly is about one’s beliefs and character traits about half of the time. Cherishing principles, being stubborn and pessimistic, failing to look on the bright side all seem to contribute to premature cognitive decline.

Bilingualism: Facts & Stats

Source: The Bilingual Family: A Handbook For Parents by Edith Harding & Philip Riley, 1999, CUP.

Over half of the world’s population is bilingual. This fact is usually surprising to many Europeans, who are under the impression that living with two or more languages is exceptional. (p. 27)

What matters and what doesn’t in second language acquisition?

Singleton’s survey (1983, Age as a Factor in Second Language Acquisition. CSLC, Trinity College, Dublin) of all the reserach and evidence shows clearly that age, in itself, is not particularly relevant to success in language learning, whereas motivation and opportunity are. (p. 63)

What is the same and what is different about young and adult foreign language learners?

Children put vast amounts of TIME and EFFORT into mastering a language: where adults do likewise, they seem to learn just as well, pronunciation excepted. In fact, adults do BETTER in terms of RATE of acquisition, and not so well in terms of eventual outcome: younger people do seem to acquire native-like accents, whereas older people seldom* lose their foreign accents. (p. 63)

*Seldom* does not mean *never*! I have read about about studies of adult SL learners with native-like accents in “The Study of Second Language Acquisition” (2008, 2nd edition, OUP) by Rod Ellis.

Update 24-12-12 an interesting discussion initiated by speakers of English about ways of acquiring a native-like Chinese accent 


Pair & Groupwork vs Teacher-Student Interaction

According to Mckay & Tom (Teaching Adult Second Language Learners, CUP, 1999, p. 26), working in groups helps students feel they are part of a community. They come to know each other as

  • individuals &
  • friends

Pair-  and groupwork serves an important pedagogical purpose, because it

provides more opportunities for individuals to talk than does a teacher-fronted class, as well as less formal and potentially threatening environment.

Working with peers, adult students are less likely to feel afraid to make a mistake, they are more relaxed and thus often end up speaking and experimenting with the language more.  What is crucial is your teacher’s classroom management skills, though. There is more to efficient pair- and groupwork in a language class than simply putting people into pairs or groups and telling them to talk about something.  The tutor has to design appropriate tasks and provide enough scaffolding in order for this type of learning activity to benefit the students.