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Adults vs. Kids learning

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beano
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 Message 17 of 77
09 May 2013 at 12:39am | IP Logged 
emk wrote:


2) Living in an L1 bubble. These folks can go forever without learning 10 words of the local language, if they
so desire.

Kids generally can't get away with (2), because they have to go to school in the local language. But I certainly
know of kids of who grew up in Saudi Arabia without learning any Arabic, because they spent nearly all their
time living in compounds and going to school with English speakers.


I understand how people can live on a military base or oil industry compound in a different country and not
learn the local language, but when you hear stories of people actually marrying a native of that country and
still not learning the language (while continuing to live there) you have to wonder what it's all about. What
happens when they socialise with their spouse's family and friends? How do they interact with the general
population? Surely they must develop at least a passive comprehension, or are their actually people who stop
up their ears when exposed to a language they don't speak....even if it happens every day?

Edited by beano on 09 May 2013 at 12:41am

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emk
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 Message 18 of 77
09 May 2013 at 12:40am | IP Logged 
JacobTM wrote:
But it would be nice to at least show them some scientific studies about this process. Because of course, it sounds like nothing but excuses to me.

Khatzumoto has a good article on how there's no way to "win" this conversation:

Quote:
To be fair to your detractors, you are not exactly a shining example of success in your chosen language acquisition method…yet. But then again, how could you be — you’re just a “baby”. Unable to directly demonstrate the validity of what you’re saying, the typical instinct might be to go pull up some articles and shove them in everyone’s face with a triumphant “SEE?!!”. Resist the urge. You will still lose the argument. And your time. The same people who now bait with: “there’s no research to support your claims”, when shown good research, will then switch to: “So what? That research is bogus anyway! If this crap works so well, why isn’t everyone doing it?” [because they're too busy arguing?...痴線!] . This arguing thing is not a winnable game.

Let me add that once you do learn a language to near fluency, everyone is going to say, "Well, but you're really good at languages, so that doesn't really count." You really can't win this argument, at least with someone who wants to make excuses.

I don't need studies to tell me adults can learn languages. I've personally watched adults go from somewhere around B2/C1 to near-native without doing any language study whatsoever. I started learning French in my 30s, and sometimes, when I'm bored, I read papers by French linguists—written in French—explaining how adults can't really learn foreign languages. Somehow those papers never quite manage to convince me. :-)

Anyway, here's a good starting point:

Quote:
We studied a group of Italian-English bilinguals who acquired L2 after the age of 10 years (high proficiency, late acquisition bilinguals) and a group of Spanish-Catalan bilinguals who acquired L2 before the age of 4 years (high proficiency, early acquisition bilinguals). The differing cortical responses we had observed when low proficiency volunteers listened to stories in L1 and L2 were not found in either of the high proficiency groups in this study.

If you look at the citation list below the paper, you can find lots of research on adult language acquisition. But none of this is going to convince anybody who doesn't want to be convinced. You're almost certainly right when you say this is about making excuses.
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beano
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 Message 19 of 77
09 May 2013 at 12:46am | IP Logged 
When Brazilian football / soccer legend Pele moved to the New York Cosmos in 1977, he could barely speak
English. Now he gives presentations in this language.

If a man from the favelas with little in the way of formal education can do it, I think it's fair to say that pretty
much all adults can learn a foreign language to a high standard if they have the will to do so.
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JacobTM
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 Message 20 of 77
14 May 2013 at 5:56pm | IP Logged 
beano wrote:
When Brazilian football / soccer legend Pele moved to the New York
Cosmos in 1977, he could barely speak
English. Now he gives presentations in this language.

If a man from the favelas with little in the way of formal education can do it, I think
it's fair to say that pretty
much all adults can learn a foreign language to a high standard if they have the will
to do so.


Of course, there are many many counter-examples to this.

It's easy for someone to say that if you've learned a language as an adult, it's just
proof that you're "good with languages". A hundred people try, 10 succeed, and those
are just the "gifted language learners".
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s_allard
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 Message 21 of 77
16 May 2013 at 7:00am | IP Logged 
Like most people here, I wish that the Critical Period Hypothesis were not true and that the scientific evidence would demonstrate once and for all that adults can learn second languages just as well as children.

We can argue all we want over the existence of neurological or physiological processes that define a window of opportunity for second language learning. But the sad truth that we all see every day is that whatever the biological or sociological factors at work, nothing beats starting a language at an early age especially for overall fluency and phonological accuracy.

I have no doubt that adults, with the right kind of massive exposure, lots of time and some good correction can achieve native-like proficiency. On the other hand, a 10 year old adopted into a foreign language will sound like a native in a year.

Despite all the counter-examples that we can dig up, the plain truth is that the vast majority of true multilinguals and even our polyglot friends started at an early age.

So, I don't think there's much to argue about. The younger you start the better you will do, but you have to play with the cards you nave been dealt. I wouldn't worry about age. There's nothing you can do about it.

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patrickwilken
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 Message 22 of 77
16 May 2013 at 10:45am | IP Logged 
beano wrote:

I understand how people can live on a military base or oil industry compound in a different country and not
learn the local language, but when you hear stories of people actually marrying a native of that country and
still not learning the language (while continuing to live there) you have to wonder what it's all about. What
happens when they socialise with their spouse's family and friends? How do they interact with the general
population? Surely they must develop at least a passive comprehension, or are their actually people who stop
up their ears when exposed to a language they don't speak....even if it happens every day?


I am sad to say that I am one of those people. I lived on and off in Germany for several years, and married a German, even went to German classes, but never really got beyond A1.

Why? My wife is C2 in English, enjoys speaking it and we just got locked into a certain language. She also really didn't care/want to talk baby German with me for weeks. My jobs were in English. I worked with foreigners, but they mostly non-native English speakers (Russian, Maltese, Israeli etc).

I rapidly got to a point where I could order food, buy clothes, etc in German, but that was really a very very low level. When you hang out with people they are happy enough to switch to English or if not you can get by pointing and speaking bad German.

I hoped that I would slowly learn German by osmosis, and there is some (minor) truth to that, in the sense I was gradually learning words, but not at the sort of rate that would be useful.

Part of the problem was that really thought I needed to learn via going to language schools, and that made me somewhat passive outside the classroom, and really didn't give me the sort of stuff I needed.

It wasn't that I didn't want to learn. I was actually quite stressed about my skill level, what I didn't understand was how to do it. I actually think living in your L2 country, up until at least you are intermediate isn't as helpful as people think. I learnt more in my first couple of months in London self-learning full-time before I relocated to Germany, than I had in four years living there.

Edited by patrickwilken on 16 May 2013 at 10:49am

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beano
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 Message 23 of 77
16 May 2013 at 11:05am | IP Logged 
patrickwilken wrote:
beano wrote:

I understand how people can live on a military base or oil industry compound in a different country and not
learn the local language, but when you hear stories of people actually marrying a native of that country and
still not learning the language (while continuing to live there) you have to wonder what it's all about. What
happens when they socialise with their spouse's family and friends? How do they interact with the general
population? Surely they must develop at least a passive comprehension, or are their actually people who stop
up their ears when exposed to a language they don't speak....even if it happens every day?


I am sad to say that I am one of those people. I lived on and off in Germany for several years, and married a German, even went to German classes, but never really got beyond A1.

Why? My wife is C2 in English, enjoys speaking it and we just got locked into a certain language. She also really didn't care/want to talk baby German with me for weeks. My jobs were in English. I worked with foreigners, but they mostly non-native English speakers (Russian, Maltese, Israeli etc).

I rapidly got to a point where I could order food, buy clothes, etc in German, but that was really a very very low level. When you hang out with people they are happy enough to switch to English or if not you can get by pointing and speaking bad German.

I hoped that I would slowly learn German by osmosis, and there is some (minor) truth to that, in the sense I was gradually learning words, but not at the sort of rate that would be useful.

Part of the problem was that really thought I needed to learn via going to language schools, and that made me somewhat passive outside the classroom, and really didn't give me the sort of stuff I needed.

It wasn't that I didn't want to learn. I was actually quite stressed about my skill level, what I didn't understand was how to do it. I actually think living in your L2 country, up until at least you are intermediate isn't as helpful as people think. I learnt more in my first couple of months in London self-learning full-time before I relocated to Germany, than I had in four years living there.


I think the best conditions for learning abroad occur when you go there armed with enough of the language to hit the ground running. You can develop rapidly from there, particularly if you are surrounded by native speakers every day.

My wife was probably approaching C2 in English when we met (in the UK). I could dimly remember some basic German from school so naturally we communicated in English. But I was always interested in improving my German.

What sealed the deal for me was visiting her parents in a remote farming village and realising that without a decent knowledge of German I could barely communicate with the people around me. Believe me, nobody switches to English in rural Brandenburg.

I studied hard at home and practised my speaking at every available opportunity. We make regular trips to Germany and I rarely speak any English over there now. So I managed to learn German without actually living in Germany, but that's not really that impressive because lots of Germans learn English without leaving their homeland.

I think it ultimately boils down to a case of how much you want it. You must have been in many situations where your wife was meeting with friends/ family who were all native German speakers. That is a great environment for learning. It involves a lot of listening at first, then chipping in with the odd remark. Eventually you can form complete sentences as part of an argument. Sure, it's easier to speak English, chances are you'll be understood. But you have to jump through the hoops.

Edited by beano on 16 May 2013 at 11:06am

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patrickwilken
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 Message 24 of 77
16 May 2013 at 11:21am | IP Logged 
beano wrote:

I think it ultimately boils down to a case of how much you want it. You must have been in many situations where your wife was meeting with friends/ family who were all native German speakers. That is a great environment for learning. It involves a lot of listening at first, then chipping in with the odd remark. Eventually you can form complete sentences as part of an argument. Sure, it's easier to speak English, chances are you'll be understood. But you have to jump through the hoops.


Of course you need to want it, but that's not sufficient. I actually did night classes at the Goethe Institute in Berlin up to end of B1, but without systematic vocabulary building nothing stuck.

To be honest, what really made the difference for me was systematic vocabulary building with Anki, as well as lots of reading (first lots of comprehensible sentences in Anki, and then once my level improved books), plus lots of dubbed movies/TV shows.

To make this a bit more relevant to the thread: I don't believe that adults are worse language learners than children. I do think adults have lots of things to distract them (e.g., work) and that when you interact with other people they simply don't treat you like a child learning a language (a point that EMK has made).




Edited by patrickwilken on 16 May 2013 at 11:29am



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