Older learners in SLA research: A first look at working memory, feedback, and L2 development

Mackey, Alison and Sachs, Rebecca (2012) Older learners in SLA research: A first look at working memory, feedback, and L2 development. Language Learning, 62 (3). pp. 704-740. ISSN 0023-8333

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A great deal of research into second-language (L2) development focuses on the role of cognitive factors and other individual differences. Studies of children and prime-of-life adult L2 learners suggest that differences exist in the learning processes of these groups. However, to date, little empirical work has been conducted with older adult learners. In this article we argue that older adults’ L2 learning aptitudes, processes, and outcomes merit investigation. We present interaction and working memory (WM) research as a case in point and then, as a preliminary illustration, report on a small-scale study of nine older adults, age 65–89, who were native speakers of Spanish learning English as a second language. These learners carried out communicative tasks with native speakers of English, who provided interactional feedback in response to nontargetlike question forms. Interestingly, the only older learners who showed L2 development were those with the highest scores on a first-language listening-span test of WM. We conclude by proposing that larger scale longitudinal research into the often overlooked population of older L2 learners is likely to shed interesting light on important questions concerning WM and learning processes in the field of second language acquisition.

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Journal Article
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Language Learning
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Deposited On:
02 Nov 2012 10:03
Last Modified:
21 Nov 2022 23:04