|dc.description.abstract||The overarching aim of this thesis is to explore the question of what role the knowledge and use of multiple languages plays in ageing. To answer this question two approaches were taken: first a natural history perspective on how languages change across the lifespan; second a training strategy investigating the effects of language learning in later life.
Chapter 1 reviews the state of the art in terms of language learning in the third age. Chapter 2 outlines various methodological considerations and contexts of the presented empirical studies. Chapter 3 presents two empirical studies of natural history: (a) a completed study where multilingual adults across the lifespan participated in an autobiographical experiment investigating the role of language in relation to the vividity and intensity of memories and (b) on-going study exploring reported changes in the language abilities in later life. These studies reveal a dynamic role of language across the lifespan of multilinguals and the inescapable importance of individual variation and contextualised differences.
The natural history investigation is followed by language learning classes across the lifespan where participants learned (a) Spanish for 2 hours 3 times a week across 4 weeks (24 hours total; Chapter 5), (b) written and spoken Mandarin Chinese 2 hours 2 times a week for 8 weeks (32 hours total; Chapter 6), or (c) Scots for 2 hours, 3 times a week for 3 weeks (18 hours total; Chapter 7). Apart from different languages being chosen, each chapter investigates a related aspect of the language. That is, the three selected languages function as an illustration of three general questions.
In Chapter 5, Spanish was selected as the target language due to being one of the most popular foreign languages in the United Kingdom, though not typically taught in schools as is the case with French or German. Therefore, participants entering the course were complete beginners, regardless of age.
This chapter concentrates on the different ages of participants and the relationships between learning success (as measured by quizzes) and the cognitive effects of language learning. Chapter 6 explores the question of modality (auditory and visual) of language learning and cognitive measures, benefitting from the unique feature of Mandarin Chinese in which the written and spoken language are dissociated to a much larger degree than in other living languages. Chapter 7 examines the issue of how the social status of a language might influence the learning process using Scots, which is debated in some circles as being a dialect of English rather than a language.
These language learning studies were designed and analysed using a mixed methods approach, integrating both quantitative and qualitative data and analysis. In adopting a mixed methods approach to answering questions around the impact of language learning across the lifespan, the participant’s opinions and experiences as well as cognitive variables are taken into consideration, creating a wholistic picture representative of lived experiences.
Lastly, two primarily qualitative studies are presented in Chapter 7. One completed study which explores online language learning with older adults and provides recommendations for improving learning experiences, and another which is still in progress. Following from the practicalities of online learning with students in the third age, preliminary results are presented from a focus group study which then informed an international online survey looking at the experience of mixed age adult language learning classroom dynamics and practicalities from the point of view of teachers as well as learners.
It is my hope that this thesis will make a two-fold contribution: (1) via the empirical findings of the individual studies and (2) in terms of exploring the importance of different methodologies and methodical considerations in answering diverse research questions.||en