language acquisition young vs. old

Teaching "young" learners | Dave Mackie | June 9th, 2005


This is not bolstered by any hypotheses, but from my own, my wife's, my family's and my children's multilingual experience there seem to be some stages in language acquisition as follows:

• Mystified
• Perceive memorizable regularities
• Want to be passively accepted by the speech community
• Want to be an active, contributing member of the speech community
• Want to be a useful (responsive, creative) member of the speech community
• Want to be otherwise unnoticed by the other members of the speech community

Obviously, there is a physical developmental difference between neurologically young people, and curmudgeons of my age- but is there any difference in the stages of acquisition?


Language acquisition young vs. old | Jerry Talandis Jr. | June 10, 2005

Hi Dave,

I have some questions about your last post.

I'm having trouble understanding the difference between wanting to be an "active" and a "useful" member of a speech community. From your experience, could you provide some example to illustrate the difference? It seems they are both the same to me.

And what do you mean by "want to be otherwise unnoticed"? Are you saying that kids want to be active, useful, and positive, and then just want to disappear? Sorry. Another example, please!

As for your question about comparing language acquisition between younger and older learners, off the top of my head there seem to be advantages and disadvantages in both camps. I remember reading about this long ago when I did TYL... Could anyone out there that has done TYL remember? I think the basic thing is that kids are hardwired to language learning (and don't mind lots of repetition), and with adults, they have their experience and higher mental abilities to help get them through.


Re: Language acquisition Young vs. Old | Sally Hirst | June 10th, 2005


I get the bit about wanting to be otherwise unnoticed (at least I think I do- Dave might prove me wrong). It's when you get to the point where you want people to respond to your contribution without prefacing their response with a comment on how good your Turkish (or whatever) is. Which would mean it was good enough not to have impinged on their attention first (or even at all, but with longer stretches of language that's less likely to happen).

My problem with the stages is they don't include the one where your second language actually starts to get worse even though you are still living in the country because you are working more and more and trying to do a Masters at the same time.


Hi all | Chris Baldwin | June 10th, 2005

Hi all

Just been given a bottle of grappa (the local poison) by a class as an end of year present, so I'm feeling good!   Time to work now, though.

Jerry - re Dave - I think that the difference between "active" and "useful" could be the difference between "responsive" and "creative"- you can actively participate when you can speak reasonably fluently (int. level?) but to be really "useful" in a conversational setting (i.e. telling jokes in a natural way) is a step up (upper int/adv?).

Have a good one!


Re: Language acquisition Young vs. Old | Dave Mackie | June 11th, 2005


Well, I didn't intend anything definitive, and there are overlaps, but at the time of writing there seemed to be a difference between being able to join in and being able to independently "get things done". The otherwise "unnoticed bit" . . . maybe unremarked would be a better term . . . refers to the awful frustration of dealing with SOME Japanese people who insist on commenting on ones skill / lack of, or setting interrogative traps to test just how good you might be, but who simply won't accept that one can speak their language. Constantly being foregrounded is uncomfortable.


Re: Language acquisition Young vs. Old | Jerry Talandis Jr. | June 11th, 2005

Hi Dave and others,

Thanks for the clarifications. I think I get it now- I just want to be treated as a "normal" person, and not the pointed out with special praise. I've had interactions with store clerks or gas station attendants where they speak to me like they speak to anyone, and that feels real good. I can imagine it's the same feeling for kids. 


Re: Language acquisition Young vs. Old | Dave Mackie | June 12th, 2005


Another aside to this concerns an implicit divide between pedagogy of the young and andragogy of the "adult".

It's assumed that adults and children learn languages in differently, and it seems obvious that they must in some ways, but one of the frustrations reported (anecdotally) by adult language learners is that they become "young" in their 2 nd language in terms of knowledge and ability to function.

I've seen this have a bad effect on 9 year olds too, so maybe chronological age is not such a great distinction.

The impression of being young in terms of language ability also affects the people one tries to interact with. In this culture they seem often to find it embarrassing to communicate with an adult while using vocab and phraseology appropriate for a much younger person. . . and consequently say nothing.



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