Language Learning Across the Lifespan

Is learning a language possible for older people? Is it worthwhile trying? Do seniors' language learning experiences differ from those of younger people in the ways that approach, undertake, and measure the success of their learning? The answers to these questions are yes, yes and (more often than not) yes! Because we live in a culture where age is frequently constructed in less than optimistic terms, the associated stereotypes can sometimes discourage people from taking the first step towards what can be an exciting, enriching and even life-changing new area of interest. There are many examples of successful older learners who have found the experience has opened up a whole new world of knowledge, skill, cultural understanding and enjoyment.

Seniors are a highly diverse group of people, and the key to language learning lies not in a proposing single set of strategies for all, but in showing how each person’s optimal approach can be shaped by personality, learning style, and experience. In this talk I will take you through some recent research on the potential cognitive and social benefits of learning a language. I will also report on my ongoing research project on the experiences of senior learners and their teachers. I will discuss some of the strategies that can sustain motivation and promote successful and enjoyable language study, and how people can go about making the right decisions about what will work for them.

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