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New perspectives on older language learners: a mixed methods study on the temporal self of young-old EFL-learners in Germany

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posted on 2022-03-29, 03:29 authored by Miriam Neigert
Despite major demographic changes in recent years and in the future, a uniform view of adult language learners has prevailed in foreign language research for a long time. Young-old learners – the participants of my study – are an age group, which spans from approximately 60 to 80 years of age and is in a transitional phase from work-life to retirement (and beyond that time) and still shows a high interest in life-long learning. My thesis investigates how young-old learners perceive themselves as foreign language learners, by taking a closer look at their L2 self-concept and its temporal facets, i.e. their past, actual, future/ideal L2 selves. To do so, my research brings together concepts from gerontology, psychology, adult education, and foreign/second language research. I have utilized a mixed method approach for my research to gain a better understanding of the complexities of language learner self. Thus, my study combines and analyses a quantitative data strand (a survey study with 195 respondents learning English at German adult education centres; German: Volkshochschule) and a qualitative data strand (21 in-depth interviews with young-old English learners at a local adult education centre). The findings of the study indicate that young-old language learners’ priorities with regard to foreign language learning undergo a shift with old age and retirement. It is a shift towards an increased value of the social sphere in a language class, as well as the intention of defying the effects of ageing by learning a foreign language (and with it practising the long-advocated ‘lifelong learning’). Moreover, the study illustrates the importance of critical incidents abroad in the past as well as a connection to an L2-community when it comes to shaping young-old language learners’ degree of resilience and quality of an L2-vision (cf. Dörnyei 2014). With this, my thesis offers a new, more differentiated perspective on older language learners. Its distinct contribution lies in uncovering the importance of researching the temporal facets of their language learner self. The research concludes that two major influences shaped the developmental logic of national food provisioning over time — the extent to which domestic capitalism gained ascendency over traditions of localism, and the extent to which global logics took precedence over national policy autonomy. Historical and structural factors relevant to the initial subordination of agriculture to industry, the nature of state activism and agency, and the degree of national autonomy and ‘policy space’ within the global scene describe and explain the distinct dynamics of national food capitalism along alternative pathways. Food systems that developed out of the need to negotiate politically and socially the extent of the commodification of food provisioning as it was the case in France, came to be underpinned by very different sets of ideological and institutional arrangements than those where the integration of agriculture into the capitalist mode of production encountered less initial resistance. The thesis also proposes to distinguish national policy logics as a question of explicit or implicit emphasis. Just as France’s food policy environment makes the social relations of food explicit with well-defined systemic policy responses, the liberal economies of both the UK and Australia conceive the organisation of food provisioning in more implicit terms, creating a political distance between the policy issue and the sites of policy decision. Overall, the study confirms that today’s ‘varieties of food capitalism’ find their origins in the social and political dynamics present at the time of transitioning to a capitalist democracy, and finds little evidence for the convergence of national food policies.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Who are the young-old -- 3. Self-concept, its temporal facets, and foreign language learners -- 4. Methodology, research design and research context -- 5. Numbers : the survey -- 6. Words : the interviews -- 7. Numbers and words : merging the quan and qual strands -- 8. Conclusion -- Works cited -- Appendices.


Bibliography: pages 219-234 Theoretical thesis. "Inaugural Dissertation zur Erlangung des Doktorgrades der Philosophie des Fachbereiches FB05 der Justus-Liebig Universität Gießen im Rahmen eines Cotutelle-Vertrages mit der Universität Macquarie University, Sydney vorgelegt von Miriam Neigert (Dipl.-Fremdsprachenlehrerin) aus Schlüchtern" -- title page

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of International Studies: Languages and Cultures

Department, Centre or School

Department of International Studies, Languages and Cultures

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Martina Möllering

Additional Supervisor 1

Michael Legutke


Copyright Miriam Neigert 2017. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (viii, 256 pages) tables

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