During the next Lingusitics Circle Meeting, Tünde Polonyi from the University of Debrecen in Hungary will give a talk entitled 'Lexical and grammatical studies of the young and the elderly whilst learning a foreign language'. The talk will be held on Friday 30 October at 12:00 in Room 104, M.A. Vassalli Conference Centre Gateway Building (GW104).
During the talk Tünde Polonyi will explain that several studies focusing on foreign language learning mostly dealt with the younger age group while that the aim of this research was to find out which aspects of a language can be mastered successfully by the elderly (at the beginning of the language learning process) compared to younger subjects.
In the research study conducted by Tünde Polonyi, 25 university students formed the young adult group while the elderly group was composed of 19 participants. All participants were native speakers of Hungarian.
The study was implemented with the help of an artificial language. Digitized cartoon drawings of animals performing different picturable actions in dyadic pairs were used. The animals and actions could be combined freely to create a large number of different scenes corresponding to independent clauses of the type “The dog hugs the lion”. Participants were familiarised with the new language during a training session and images were displayed on the screen accompanied by an appropriate descriptive sentence. Participants observed the novel language and the pictures along with reading aloud the sentences below the images for three times. The training session was followed by several tasks tapping different aspects of language learning. These tasks consisted of picture-word matching task, grammatical learning tasks and interviews. The experiment consisted of three sessions run on three consecutive days.
The results show that there are certain implicit (unconscious) learning processes, but they may prevail mostly in relation to word learning. Incidental learning is not effective in grammar learning, not even in the case of young adults. Providing examples and concrete explanations is likely to be more beneficial for the learner in the beginning of the learning process. Results also indicate that throwing the elderly in at the deep end does not help, but effective word learning mechanisms are available at older age as well: some participants achieved outstanding accuracy at word recognition and word recall.