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Factors in language learning after 40: Insights from a longitudinal study

Olga Kozar and Lynda Yates


This study seeks to identify differences in language learning progress and experiences among 24 adult migrants, who arrived to Australia after the age of 40. The results suggest that age per se was not a reliable predictor of language learning progress. Instead, the initial English level of participants when they arrived to Australia, opportunities to use English and prior level of education were associated with considerable language learning gains. For example, participants who had a higher initial English level were able to find jobs that required them to perform a range of oral and written tasks across different domain, which further improved their level, while participants who had a low initial level were mostly unemployed. Another common factor we noted among participants with high and reasonable gains but not among those who made little progress was a proactive attitude and the use of a range of language learning strategies beyond the classroom. The study also revealed differences in age construal among participants with high and reasonable gains and those who did not improve.


[Correction added after online publication 19 July 2017: 3rd paragraph of the introduction, 3rd paragraph of the ‘Perspectives on age’, 7th paragraph of the ‘Perspectives on age’ and 1st paragraph of the ‘Adult immigrants and language learning’ were edited to improve the text.]

Appendix 1: Semi-structured interview guide

  1. A greeting.

  2. Catching up about what participants have been doing since the last interview.

  3. The compilation of a language map and questions about language use in the identified domains.

  4. Family (e. g. Tell me about your family and who lives at home with you? What languages do you use with whom and why? What do you find most difficult about using English with your partner?).

  5. Work (e. g. Where do you work? How did you find the job? What languages do you use at work with whom and for which tasks? What do you find most difficult about using English at work?).

  6. Education (e. g. Are you doing courses at TAFE/studying at university? What are you studying? How did you find out about the course? What do you find most difficult about language use at TAFE/university?).

  7. Social networks (e. g. Tell me about who you spend time with? How did you meet them? What languages do you use with them? Do you have Australian friends? How much contact do you have with people back in your home country?).

  8. Religious practices/other activities (e. g. Tell me about other groups you belong to? How did you find out about them? What languages do you use? Do you volunteer?).

  9. Question prompts that aim at eliciting longer stretches of talk:

  10. I’d like to hear what you think about Australia.

  11. What do you like about Australia?

  12. What don’t you like about Australia?

  13. Imagine a friend is moving to Australia. What advice would you give them?

  14. I’d like to hear you talk about the future. What are your plans and dreams for the next five years?

  15. Settlement success (e. g. Do you want to become an Australian citizen? Why/why not? Do you feel at home in Australia? What do you need to have to feel at home?).

  16. Participants’ self-rated language assessments.

  17. Language learning practices (e. g. Tell us about anything that you do to learn English outside of class? Do these things help? Which skills are most important and why?).

  18. AMEP (e. g. What did you like/not like about AMEP? How did AMEP help you with your pathway/developing a social network? What did you learn at AMEP? What did you think about the settlement topics you talked about in class?).

  19. Closing

Appendix 2

NameCohortGenderProgress Self-assessmentProgress through CSWEProgress to no interpreterSpoken proficiency ratings
ShintaBFemalenoneSame levelNN/A
Li MingAFemalenoneSame levelNN/A
Yoo-JinBFemaleSomeSame levelYN/A
CharlesAMalev. positive2 levels + further studyN/A+1.3
AbrarAFemalev. positiveAll CSWE + further studyN/AN/A
ShanBFemalesome, but feels -ve1A to 2B, then LLNPN/A+0.75
KiranBMaleNoneSame levelNN/A
AlinaAFemaleSomeSame levelN/A−0.25
Xiao MeiAFemaleSomeSame level + further studyN/A−0.5
RajaBMaleSome, slightSame levelNN/A
KrishnaBFemaleNoneSame levelNN/A
KanchaBMaleNoneSame levelNN/A
DbchaterBMalev. positiveSame level (quit)N/AN/A
SadewaBMaleNoneSame levelNN/A
IreneAFemaleNoneSame levelNN/A
LeoAMaleSomeSame level, then tutorNN/A
IndiraBFemaleNoneSame levelN/AN/A
AkbarBMaleSomeSame levelNN/A
SarahAFemalepositiveAll CSWE + further studyN/AN/A
BeatrizAFemaleNoneSame levelN/A−0.13
TakumiBMaleSomeOne level + further studyNN/A
BimaBMaleNoneSame levelNN/A
LudmillaAFemaleSomeAll CSWE + further studyYN/A
Li Li LinAFemaleSomeone level + further studyYN/A

[Correction added after online publication 19 July 2017: 10th cell of column ‘Progress Selfassessment’ was change to ‘Some, slight’ and the last cell of column ‘Name’ was changed to ‘Li Li Lin’.]


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[Correction added after online publication 19 July 2017: Yates, L. (2010) and Yates, L et al. (2015) have been added to the reference list.]

Published Online: 2019-05-23
Published in Print: 2019-05-26

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