Over the past decade, the importance of lifelong language learning has been emphasised by researchers and policy makers. Indeed, language skills are thought to contribute to economic success, personal fulfilment, social integration, intercultural understanding, and equality of opportunity (Department for Education and Skills, 2002). Research also suggests that second language knowledge can slow down the process of cognitive aging, even when the language is acquired later in life (Bak et al., 2014). While opportunities for adults to acquire new language have flourished, little is understood about how acquisition process itself changes as we age.
Language acquisition is a complex skill that draws upon a number of different cognitive functions. During the course of acquisition, a learner will typically engage in several different forms of learning, from explicit memorisation of individual words, to extraction of grammatical rules. Language and Cognition across the Lifespan is a three year research project funded the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which aims to explore the cognitive mechanisms that underpin different forms of language acquisition known to operate during childhood, and examine how these mechanisms change over the lifespan. While some cognitive functions are known to decline with age, others remain relatively stable. As we age, we also accumulate long-term knowledge and experience which may help to support some aspects of language acquisition. Gaining a better understanding of how the relative contribution of these different processes change throughout life will assist in the development of new techniques to support lifelong learning, and meet the needs of the individual learner.
Contact: Psychology-LCL@york.ac.uk Telephone: Palmer, Shekeila on 01904 324355