Reconsidering second-language acquisition in older adults

I’ve had my new cellphone for a few months now, and still I’m struggling to master the sophisticated features. The phone allows me access to my email, my blog, and the internet. I could even post to my Facebook account if I had a Facebook account. I didn’t realize I’d be buying a mini computer. My retired phone pales in comparison.

Then there’s the joy of texting. Once I overcame my emoji resistance, I became excited to have access to such a wide variety of expressions, and I now pepper my texts liberally with random little yellow faces. Turns out emojis are no longer just faces, however; there are families and animals and objects and musical instruments and places and…oh, you know this already.

Grid of facial emojisAs I type my vacuous texts, the corresponding emojis pop up so I can insert them in place of the word(s). That’s how I discovered my favourite, the stinky poop emoji, that little brown pile–what other colour would it be?–above. (I only typed “stinky poop” in my text to find that emoji; I was not, and I repeat NOT, texting anyone about my poop.) You heard it here last folks: written words are becoming obsolete.

No one told me that learning all those facial-expression emojis would be like acquiring a new language altogether. Turns out I’m an ESL (that’s Emoji as a Second Language) flunky. I have seen repeated pairings between emojis and my written words–I type the feeling word and each time it prompts the corresponding emoji–but my near vision is so poor that, as far as I can tell, every little yellow face looks the same. Angry? Upset? Happy? I have no idea! I’m finally rid of all those uninterpretable little black squares I used to receive in my texts, only to find myself face to face with indecipherable faces. Maybe I don’t lack an ear for languages after all; rather, I don’t have the eye for them.

There’s a commonly held belief that children learn new languages more easily than adults. From my five-minute extensive research review, I’ve learned that children more easily master the pronunciation of a new language than adults, and they have the advantage of new-language immersion at school. But, according to my quick but thorough scan of the research, so long as they’re not too far over the hill, adults can also master new languages under the right conditions.

What if all these researchers are barking in the wrong ear? Hasn’t anyone considered the impact of kids’ superior vision on language learning? I, for one, believe there is a strong correlation between visual acuity and language acquisition. I don’t need a young person to teach me those they-all-look-the-same-to-me emojis; I will eventually master them on my own, thank you very much. Right after I buy a new pair of reading glasses.

In the meantime, if you notice that my emojis don’t quite correspond to the sentiment I’m trying to convey in my text, don’t mock me. I’m so far over the hill that you may need to cut me some slack.


12 thoughts on “Reconsidering second-language acquisition in older adults

  1. Hi Annie, hope you are muddling through well!

    Great post! Very funny. I’m hearing ya…as a mature person myself!

    I’m writing about second-language acquisition myself at the moment. so your title drew me in and then I was reading about smart phones and emojis! LoL!

    I really thought your comment : “there is a strong correlation between visual acuity and language acquisition” was great- Get it out there to the Second-language acquisition academia!

    Regards. Marie.


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