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Adults vs. Kids learning

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patrickwilken
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 Message 33 of 77
16 May 2013 at 4:27pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:

The cut-off age is certainly not 6. The Critical Period Hypothesis, as this whole debate is called, says there exists an period between ages approximately 0 and 15 for the optimal learning of second languages. I would emphasize the word approximately. In my example, I chose 20 simply to be a bit far from 15 but not too far. But it could just as well have been 18, 28 or 38.

This raises another issue. We know that cognitive decline in adults starts around age 50. Should we not assume that after that age it becomes more difficult to learn a second language?


Actually I was taught the cut-off was six when I was studying psychology in the 1980s, but it appears that there are apparently lots of different times bandied about in the literature.

There is a nice summary on Wikipedia if anyone is interested:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_period_hypothesis

I don't know enough about the developmental brain, but my understanding is that the main difference between adolescent and adult brains is in the pre-frontal contex (areas associated not surprisingly with self control) and not language areas. If anything I would expect adolescents to have more difficultly learning languages from adults simply because they are not as controlled, more moody etc.

Cognitive decline in adults is noticeable after about 18, not 50. The brain is like any other organ that starts slowly declining. IQ tests are re-calibrated for age for precisely this reason. People don't suddenly start physically declining at 50, aging is obvious throughout life, and unfortunately the brain is no different in this regard. However, language (as a learnt skill) continues to improve with age.



Edited by patrickwilken on 16 May 2013 at 4:32pm

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beano
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 Message 34 of 77
16 May 2013 at 4:48pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:

This raises another issue. We know that cognitive decline in adults starts around age 50. Should we not assume that after that age it becomes more difficult to learn a second language?


Although the empirical evidence suggests that people aged 50+ do rather well at learning new languages, probably because they have more time on their hands.
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s_allard
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 Message 35 of 77
16 May 2013 at 4:51pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
s_allard wrote:
I'm just saying that, for whatever reasons, children have a distinct advantage over adults. All parents know this.

As a parent in a bilingual household, I'd actually disagree. When my kids were born, my entire knowledge of French consisted of Assimil's New French With Ease and less than 1,000 pages of reading. My wife has consistently spoken French to our children since the day they were born. I've listened to her speak to the kids for over four years, and I started speaking French with her about 14 months ago. In addition, I flipped through a few grammar books, worked briefly with an excellent tutor, did lang-9 for a month, and joined the Super Challenge.

The result? I speak better French than my kids.

What's wrong with this picture? I take @emk's word that he speaks better French than his children. Although the children have spoken French with their mother, have they attended school entirely in French? Are their playmates French-speaking? How much television have they watched in French? To me this sounds like the typical heritage language situation where children often develop limited linguistic skill (but with good pronunciation) limited to the home environment.

Now let's say that @emk's family were to move to France for three years, and the children attend a local lycée and make new friends. I'd bet that the kids would end up speaking better overall French.

To make things even clearer, let's ship the entire family off to China for three years because @emk has obtained a visiting position at a prestigious university. The children go to a local Chinese school after some intensive Mandarin instruction during the summer. It's rough but they get lots of tutoring and support. @emk is also making a lot of effort to learn Mandarin.

At the end of three years, who speaks better Mandarin? Does anybody here believe that @emk will speak better Mandarin than his children? I don't.
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schoenewaelder
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 Message 36 of 77
16 May 2013 at 4:54pm | IP Logged 
patrickwilken wrote:
I don't for a minute believe an 18 year old brain has a particular advantage learning a language over a 38 year old brain.


I assume you are under 38. Speaking as a post 38er, I would give my right-lobe to have my 18 year-old brain back.
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beano
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 Message 37 of 77
16 May 2013 at 4:59pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:


To make things even clearer, let's ship the entire family off to China for three years because @emk has obtained a visiting position at a prestigious university. The children go to a local Chinese school after some intensive Mandarin instruction during the summer. It's rough but they get lots of tutoring and support. @emk is also making a lot of effort to learn Mandarin.

At the end of three years, who speaks better Mandarin? Does anybody here believe that @emk will speak better Mandarin than his children? I don't.


But none of the Chinese kids will speak English (or French) to @emk's children in a Chinese school. It is a sink-or-swim situation for them. @emk himself can presumably function at least partly in English in his professional routine.

But what if he worked in a factory where only Mandarin was spoken on the shop floor?

Edited by beano on 16 May 2013 at 5:00pm

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montmorency
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 Message 38 of 77
16 May 2013 at 5:41pm | IP Logged 
schoenewaelder wrote:
patrickwilken wrote:
I don't for a minute believe an 18 year
old brain has a particular advantage learning a language over a 38 year old brain.


I assume you are under 38. Speaking as a post 38er, I would give my right-lobe to have
my 18 year-old brain back.


I'd give my right-lobe to have my 18 year-old waistline back!

To be slightly serious: on S_Allard's point about over-50-year olds:


To confuse the picture, some people have argued that intellectual exercise such as
foreign language learning can delay the onset of brain deterioration in later years.
I'm not sure I buy it, since I believe it is mostly a physical process, but still.

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Fuenf_Katzen
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 Message 39 of 77
16 May 2013 at 6:03pm | IP Logged 
beano wrote:
s_allard wrote:


To make things even clearer, let's ship the entire family off to China for three years because @emk has obtained a visiting position at a prestigious university. The children go to a local Chinese school after some intensive Mandarin instruction during the summer. It's rough but they get lots of tutoring and support. @emk is also making a lot of effort to learn Mandarin.

At the end of three years, who speaks better Mandarin? Does anybody here believe that @emk will speak better Mandarin than his children? I don't.


But none of the Chinese kids will speak English (or French) to @emk's children in a Chinese school. It is a sink-or-swim situation for them. @emk himself can presumably function at least partly in English in his professional routine.

But what if he worked in a factory where only Mandarin was spoken on the shop floor?


To take it one step further: what if emk were receiving an education in Mandarin in addition to working? I think the point he was trying to make earlier was that it isn't an equal situation to compare a child completely immersed with realistically minimal options for falling back on his native language with an adult who can function in his native language in the foreign country. Likewise, I would also consider it to be an unequal situation when the child is receiving a certain amount of formal instruction compared with one who is self-studying or learning primarily through speech. Native speakers learn a great amount of their language through school and learning how to write or phrase sentences.

If I remember correctly, emk made a great jump within only a few months (for some reason I'm remembering three?). That's a great amount of progress in a short period of time, and shows that adults can and do learn extremely well when they're given the time, motivation, and desire.
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patrickwilken
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 Message 40 of 77
16 May 2013 at 6:16pm | IP Logged 
schoenewaelder wrote:
patrickwilken wrote:
I don't for a minute believe an 18 year old brain has a particular advantage learning a language over a 38 year old brain.


I assume you are under 38. Speaking as a post 38er, I would give my right-lobe to have my 18 year-old brain back.


Actually I am 47.

But I am not trying to argue that my 47 year old brain is the same as my 17 year old brain. Of course not. I have no real idea how much it has declined, but I still seem to be able to read and my basic thought processes are still working. Though that's to be expected as I am not meant to go into steep decline for 2-3 more years. :)

The question is whether there really are two separate learning phases: (1) one before 6 years, or 18 years, or 15 years or whatever; (2) and everything after that.

The data is at least controversial. There are critical developmental windows in other cognitive areas (say vision), but these are very early on. So, the classic experiment is to sew the eyelids of kittens together so they can't see, and you find out that there are early developmental windows when if the kitten doesn't see horizontal lines it will never apparently see horizontal lines. However, these are very early on in the developmental brain, which is why I assume people (used to at least) to talk about six years and under as a critical period for language acquisition.

But keep in mind that this called the Critical Period Hypothesis. I think it's enough to say that even though it was proposed more than fifty years ago (before I was born - shudder!) it's still not proved/agreed upon. If the data was strong we'd know about it already.



Edited by patrickwilken on 16 May 2013 at 6:40pm



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