Carla Hudson Kam talking at NIU on Apr 30: Input, ‘intake’, and the adult language learner

I’m visiting Northern Illinois University this week, as part of serving as a mentor in their PI Academy. I’ll be working with Karen Lichtman in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature. I’m looking forward to the visit, and to being part of this really innovative program.

As part of my involvement, I’ll be giving a talk on some of my work. I’ve chosen to talk about work most related to Karen’s own (really interesting!) research program. Which means talking about work I’ve never talked about before (although thankfully, Amy Finn, the former student who did much of the work, has). It’s especially exciting to me because I’m bringing together work by 2 PhD students at 2 different universities, in addition to work done by 2 undergraduates, again, from both UC Berkeley and UBC. Given the way we write papers, things can appear as a bunch of unrelated projects, when really there is a very programmatic thread underlying them all, and it’s been fun to string that thread through the studies while working on the talk.

The talk is entitled “Input, ‘intake’, and the adult language learner”.

Here’s the abstract: Differences in outcomes between child and adult language learners have long been noted – in particular, the fact that people who start learning a language as children usually reach a higher level of proficiency in the language than those who start learning later in life. A variety of explanations for this discrepancy in outcomes have been proposed, ranging from differences in neural plasticity to differences in the levels of personal identification with the new and old cultures, most of which find some support in the data. One factor that has received relatively less attention is input differences, the idea that children and adults tend to get very different linguistic input. People have pointed out, for instance, that the context or environment in which adults versus children learn obviously will affect their input, which then has the potential to affect learning outcomes. But there is another aspect to input, namely, how learners engage with and process the input they receive, that can be described as affecting their intake, not just their input. These are things internal to the learner, like the nature and strength of prior knowledge and maturationally controlled cognitive/brain changes. In this talk, I will present data from several studies using miniature artificial language methods demonstrating how learning outcomes for adult learners are affected by their intake, and discuss how these intake effects are related to maturation and so age of acquisition.

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