Cultural Migrants and Optimal Language Acquisition

19 August 2015

This month we published Cultural Migrants and Optimal Language Acquisition edited by Fanny Forsberg Lundell and Inge Bartning. Here, Fanny and Inge discuss the relationship between language learning and culture.

Cultural Migrants and Optimal Language AcquisitionHow well can you actually learn a second language if you start later on in life? As linguists interested in second language acquisition, this is an obvious question. Recent years have seen a growing body of research within the fields of nativelikeness and ultimate attainment, often evolving around the famous Critical Period Hypothesis. According to this hypothesis (depending on the individual researcher’s interpretation), it is impossible to acquire a second language at the level of a native speaker after puberty. More than a hundred studies have tried to confirm or reject this hypothesis and the current state-of-the art, to simplify things, is quite unanimous: yes, for some subtleties of linguistic competence, such as phonetic and grammatical intuition there seems to be a major obstacle for many individuals when acquisition starts after puberty. However, there is much more to language than some detailed aspects that have generally been the object of critical period inquiry, which do not necessarily have an impact on everyday communicative competence.

What is more, there are also other populations of second language learners than those which have traditionally been included in studies on nativelikeness. For quite some time, we have followed a group of Swedish long-term residents in Paris, France. We were amazed by how well many of them had learnt French, although they were late starters. In a study published last year, Forsberg Lundell et al. (2014), 30% of them passed as native speakers in a native speaker evaluation test, which is a high figure compared to earlier studies. The socio-psychological advantage of these learners was striking: most of them were self-declared francophiles, with good experiences of integration, both on a professional and personal level. Could we find a more optimal setting for language learning? If we want to investigate the potential of adult second language learning, these are the speakers we should go after.

Luckily, we are not the only ones interested in the link between second language learning and cultural motivation. Colleagues from Sweden, Ireland, the UK, France and Spain have contributed to this volume and illustrate the relevance of studying the link between migration experience and language. It is our belief that the book presents a number of studies which convincingly argue for a tight link between second language attainment and culture.

Our hope is that our book will open up for new exciting research projects where migration experience is considered to a much larger extent in studies on adult second language acquisition. Furthermore, it would also be desirable if social scientists, studying migration and integration, would accord a more pivotal place to the role played by language, a key aspect of human culture and cognition.

9781847699893For more information about this title please see our website. If you found this interesting you might also enjoy Linguistic and Cultural Acquisition in a Migrant Community edited by David Singleton et al.

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