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Language Learning For Older People Essay

1632 words - 7 pages

by Dorothy Kalloch

Heading toward the Mission field are a group of eager retirees who want to use their gifts as God directs. Perhaps many of them are wondering, "At my age can I really learn a new language?"

A study called, "Language Learning in Midlife" starts out by saying, "Language acquisition for this group is an issue which should be explored as agencies rethink policies for recruitment, personnel placement, and member care. Recent research indicates that an older adult can successfully learn another language despite the conventional wisdom that after some ill-defined point in early adulthood it is 'too late' to learn a language. That is not ...view middle of the document...

Wycliffe Bible Translators have courses specifically designed to aid the missionary language learner. Even without this, like any other new missionary, a "second-career" one should be given the chance to spend some weeks or months just concentrating on language study.

An article on "The Older Language Learner" says that older learners actually have advantages over younger ones! If this is not too optimistic an evaluation, we can ignore stereotypes and see that "older learners have more highly developed cognitive systems, are able to make higher order associations and generalizations, and can integrate new language input with their already substantial learning experience…Older adults have already developed learning strategies that have served them well in other contexts." (Eric Digest: "The Older Language Learner" by Mary Scleppegrell, Sept. 1987)

Lonna Dickerson says, "50 is 'old' when it comes to language learning. "It has been said that "A 50-year-old can be as successful as an 18-year-old if other factors are equal…"

"If all other factors are equal"! There is the catch. What other factors are not equal for an older learner? People may have said, "At your age! Do you think you can learn a whole new language?" Or the missionary may have thought, "my head is already crammed with so much information: language(s), memories, ideas, information gleaned from hundreds of sources; where is the space to put new words and phrases into?

Some variables related to age are: physical factors, memory, motivation and self-efficacy.-"self-efficacy" meaning perhaps something like "self-reliance" or "self-realization", ie. fulfillment of one's potential capacities. " People high in this last quality are more confident and work harder to accomplish tasks than those with low self-efficacy." (Language Learning in Midlife" by Colleen S. Hale. Wheaton Graduate School, pp. 15, 16)

Motivation is very important. Older adults tend to be "self-directing". They will tell you how they learn best, and with what motives. Some are "instrumentally motivated"*, that is they have to learn in order to get along in the culture of the country they have chosen. Others are "motivated by integrative reasons"*, that is they want to fit into their new culture and develop relationships with its people. Is motivation a cause of success or a consequence of success? Probably both. A person who makes use of what has been learned to converse with nationals in different situations and has a good time with this, will be further motivated to keep learning, and will make more contacts. (Ibid p. 17)

"Research shows that older adults…are capable of much greater success than may have initially been assumed, especially when programs are tailored to meet their needs." Successful older language-learners have gotten past the stereotypes which can be a hindrance. "The younger the better", it has been said, and this is not necessarily true. It has been said that "the stereotype of...

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