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Adults vs. Kids learning

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Serpent
Octoglot
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 Message 73 of 77
20 May 2013 at 10:38pm | IP Logged 
A+ post!

I'll just add that an adult can create immersion at home (see Khatzumoto) and is more likely to consider language learning something meaningful/have a passion for the culture. I think very few kids (below 12) could do LR successfully, for example.

I only hinted at this, but I basically think that kids can't use unlimited time and money as efficiently as adults. Like if we compare the results after 6 months, a year or 5 years of unlimited time&money for language learning.
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s_allard
Triglot
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 Message 74 of 77
21 May 2013 at 1:27am | IP Logged 
Lone_Wolf wrote:
)
...

Of course I'm expecting you to come back with a post of disagreement. It is not a rhetorical question. I would really like to know if you can provide us here the research study that was performed to substantiate your opinion that a 6 year old brain is more suited by default to absorb second languages than a 30, 40 or 50 year old brain.

I am waiting for that study in all sincerity.

Frankly, I think that this discussion is descending into silliness. Where in the world did I express the opinion that a 6 year old brain is more suited by default to absorb second languages than a 30, 40 or 50 year old brain?

Maybe my English is faulty, after all it is my second language. I don't know what to add. I have clearly stated that I believe that childhood--not young brains--is best suited for second language acquisition because the optimal conditions are most likely to occur. (I would add that for phonology there is some evidence of age sensitivity). I mentioned three conditions that have nothing to do with the brain:
1. Schooling in the language
2. Socialization with native peers
3. Massive exposure to media and culture in the second language

I keep reading about these ideal conditions under which adults starters can reach the same levels of proficiency as adults who started when they were children. Notice that I'm not saying that adults can achieve the same levels as children.

If those so-called ideal conditions are met, maybe those adults can achieve the same results as child starters. That I don't doubt. So, we all agree on this last part.

By the same token what i see -- and what most parents see -- is that children have it much easier than adults because of all the wonderful things of childhood. And what we all see is that the vast majority of truly proficient second language speakers have started at a relatively young age.

I'm sure that there exists adult starters who have achieved remarkable results. But where are they? I'll admit that I have not sampled the entire world, but, as I wrote previously, I have never met an adult learner of French who could pass for a native speaker whereas I have seen many examples of English-speaking adults who attended French school and end up speaking flawless French.

As a matter of fact, in the previous provincial government here in Quebec two ministers, Kathleen Weil and Yolande James, spoke perfect French that they had picked up in French school as children. In fact, when we look at the bilingualism of politicians here in Canada, the most proficient became so by attending school in the other language.

What does this all mean? It means that if there is a choice between learning a language as a child or waiting to adult age, most people will go for the first option because it has the most predictable outcome.

Imagine that a local elementary school here in North America announces a Mandarin immersion program whereby some teachers from China will be offering two days a week of instruction all in Mandarin starting in kindergarten. But registration is limited to the first 50 students. How will the parents react?

I believe that nearly all the parents will rush down and camp out the night before to get those coveted spots because they believe, wrongly or rightly, that this is a golden opportunity for the future of their children. On the other hand, there are some parents who will stay home, saying, 'What's the rush? My children can learn Mandarin just as well at a later age.'

That's what this whole discussion boils down to. Proficient second language acquisition during childhood is basically a guaranteed success. Proficient second language acquisition during adulthood is far less probable.


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Lone_Wolf
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 Message 75 of 77
21 May 2013 at 2:08am | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
I have clearly stated that I believe that childhood--not young brains--is best suited for second language acquisition because the optimal conditions are most likely to occur.


s_allard wrote:
By the same token what i see -- and what most parents see -- is that children have it much easier than adults because of all the wonderful things of childhood. And what we all see is that the vast majority of truly proficient second language speakers have started at a relatively young age.


s_allard wrote:
That's what this whole discussion boils down to. Proficient second language acquisition during childhood is basically a guaranteed success. Proficient second language acquisition during adulthood is far less probable.


Again, you did not provide any research or study to confirm any of these Opinions you've expressed. But I realize now that I have to let it go. In my 40 years of life I have come across a variety of personality types two of which are 1) A person who refuses to acknowledge when his or her opinions have been refuted and proven wrong and 2) A person who enjoys debating for debate's sake. When I finally arrive at the conclusion that I am dealing with one or both types I bow out of the discussion which is what I am doing now.

s_allard, feel free to have the last say. IF...and I wish to emphasize IF... you provide the rest of us with a study or the research to confirm your opinions and beliefs then maybe I will provide additional feedback or admit the validity of your opinions. Until then, I am bowing out of my discussion with you and absolutely no hard feelings my friend :-) I'm just hoping that you would be willing to take the time to seriously and sincerely ponder on something which you've admitted:

Quote:
I'll admit that I have not sampled the entire world


And to this I can only say that I rest my case :-)


Edited by Lone_Wolf on 21 May 2013 at 2:10am

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s_allard
Triglot
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Canada
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Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
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 Message 76 of 77
21 May 2013 at 4:44am | IP Logged 
Thank God that this case has been rested. I was getting tired. So, I have been refuted and proven wrong? By whom? Really, I have to laugh. I have been at HTLAL long enough with enough posts and votes to have seen my fair share of johnny-come-latelies and charlatans who claim to turn the world of second language acquisition on its head while spouting some pseudo-scientific drivel. This reminds me of that chap some while ago who was going to learn Russian by listening to tapes for 72 consecutive hours without sleeping.

Now that that distraction is out of the way, we can get serious. If there is one field of second language acquisition that has been studied to death, it is that of L2 acquisition by children. Although many observers claim that adults learn differently and can learn well, no researchers claim that it's better to learn as an adult than as a child. Here is an article that's a bit old that shows some differing opinions. The reference is at the bottom of the article.

"Nov. 4, 2002 -- It's never too soon -- or too late for a child to learn a second language. Children who learn to speak two languages at once sound like a native in both tongues. What's more, they learn to talk at the same speed as kids who learn only a single language.

The findings come from a study led by Laura-Ann Petitto, PhD, director of the cognitive neuroscience laboratory for language and child development at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H. At this week's meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Petitto reported a study of 15 children who learned a second language at various ages.

The children learned French and English; Spanish and French; or Russian and French. They also included children in French-speaking communities whose deaf parents taught them sign language. Children began learning the second language at birth, at age 2-3 years, at age 4-6 years, or at age 7-9 years.

"The earlier a child was exposed to a second language, the better the child did," Petitto tells WebMD. "This flies in the face of educational policy that says expose a child to only to one language at first. This does not support the holding policy that today is rampant in education. A child is not confused by a second language or delayed in learning the community language."

No matter what age these kids began to learn a second tongue, they learned it better if they picked it up in their families or communities than if they learned it in a classroom setting. And while bilingual children didn't learn to speak any sooner or later than single-language kids, they did get one extra advantage besides their added fluency.

"Interestingly, bilingual children are better than [single-language] children in aspects of [thinking] that require them to switch attention," Petitto says. "Because they are switching attention between two languages, a byproduct is enhancement in activities that use this skill."

Petitto tested the children on several aspects of language -- including the types of words and grammar they learned, the sounds they made, and whether, to a native speaker, they had native- or foreign-sounding accents. While children who first learned one language and then learned another quickly became fluent in their second tongue, they were never quite as excellent as those who learned two languages at once.

"We tested children on the whole landscape of human language -- and the earlier they were exposed to a second language, the more masterful they were in each of these areas," Petitto says. "So later-exposed children can say lots of words in French and Russian, but their second language had a heavy accent and they didn't have as good grammar. They would immediately be identified as a foreign speaker."

Bilingual learning expert Ellen Bialystok, PhD, is professor of psychology at York University, Toronto. She warns that Petitto's study does not show that a second language can be learned only during a critical period of childhood.

"It is not a bad thing to start late," Bialystok tells WebMD. "It is never too late to learn a second language. I don't want people to get the idea [from Petitto's study] that there is no point in beginning later or that some cost or compromise is made."

Petitto says that the brain changes during the teen years, making it impossible for an adult to learn a language the same way that a child does. Bialystok agrees that it's a totally different thing for an adult to learn a language -- but stresses that it's still a good thing to do.

"Probably someone who begins to learn a second language at age 20 would not sound like a native even at age 40," Bialystok says. "The reason is not that their brains have passed some critical time when it is only possible to do this. There is simply no sense in which the actual mechanics of how language is learned is same at 20 as it is at age 5. You learn in different contexts, you talk about different things, you already fully have your first language, your life is busier -- so it's just not the same thing."

Petitto is now studying the changes that happen to the brain when a second language is learned."
article WebMD


Here now is the first part of a great little summary of the findings as of 2007 on the issue of age and second language acquisition :

"Andrea B. Hellman October 20, 2007 MIDTESOL andreabhellman@gmail.edu
AGE EFFECTS IN SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION: IMPLICATIONS FOR EDUCATORS

This session will present a selective review of literature on age effects in second language (L2) acquisition with a special emphasis on the differential outcomes in the various language domains. Although research in the past 20 years demonstrated a serious disadvantage for adult-onset second language learners with little hope of native-like eventual attainment in phonology and morphosyntax, recent neurolinguistic studies have introduced the idea that native-like proficiency may be a very real possibility in the lexicosemantic domain even for late-onset learners. The presenter will discuss how educators can make the most of these research findings by setting appropriate learning goals and objectives.

Review of Age Effects
Phonology
There is little evidence of nativelike attainment in phonology for adult-onset L2 learners.
Oyama, 1978; Flege, MacKay, and Meador, 1999; Flege, Yeni-Komshian, and Liu, 1999; Piske,MacKay, and Flege, 2001; Flege and Liu, 2001
Bongaerts, van Summeren, Planken, and Schills, 1997; Moyer, 1999; Bongaerts, 1999

Grammar
Nonnative-like attainment is the norm in grammar for late-onset L2 learners.
Coppieters, 1987; Johnson and Newport, 1989; Johnson, 1992; Flege, Yeni-Komshian, and Liu, 1999;DeKeyser, 2000; McDonald, 2000; Flege and Liu, 2001; Birdsong and Molis, 2001


Universal grammar features are acquirable: Birdsong, 1992; White and Genessee, 1996; Urponen, 2004

Vocabulary
Findings are inconclusive regarding the possibility of nativelike end results in L2 vocabulary for late-onset learners.
Hyltenstam, 1988, 1992; Kim, 1997; Spadaro, 1998; J. Lee, 1998 (quoted in Long, 2007); Marinova-Todd, 2003
Bahrick et al., 1994

Semantics
There are promising results for adult-onset L2 learners in the area of phrasal semantics.
Montrul and Slabakova, 2003; Slabakova, 2006

Overall
Although rare, overall native-likeness may exist among adult-onset L2 learners.
Marinova-Todd, 2003

Neuroimaging studies suggest that the effect of age differs across the various language domains

Neuroimaging evidence against age of onset effects in the lexicosemantic domain
fMRI: Kim et al., 1997; Wartenburger et al., 2003
ERP: Weber-Fox and Neville, 1996; Hahne and Friederici, 2001; Hahne, 2001, Sanders and Neville,2003a, 2003b.

The cause

Views differ regarding the cause of non-native-likeness.
A critical period for language acquisition?
General age effects?
An epiphenomenon of bilingualism?
The effect of having stably acquired one language already?"
Age effects on second language learning

Readers will notice that L2 phonology is one area where there is a clear-cut advantage of starting early.

All of this leads once again to the same conclusion that I've been hammering at tiresomely. It's best to start as a child but it's never too late.

Edited by s_allard on 21 May 2013 at 4:46am

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emk
Diglot
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 Message 77 of 77
21 May 2013 at 5:48am | IP Logged 
Lone Wolf, s_allard: I know everybody has said this debate is over. This might be a good idea, at least for a little bit. I find that threads are most productive when people debate the issues, and try to stay well away from personal comments.

I've really enjoyed Lone Wolf's stories of adult Arabic students and s_allard's excellent bibliography, as well as the many other contributions that everybody has made to this thread.


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