Universiteit Leiden

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Adult language learners benefit more from education when first language and additional language are similar

Tuesday 7 November 2023
Pieterskerkhof 6
2311 SR Leiden


A higher education often helps to learn additional languages. Here, I will present a study about why the size of this effect may depend on the similarity of the L1 to the target language, expecting that a higher education facilitates both language-independent literacy skills as well as transfer of L1 competences that are like the target language. We analyzed a newly available set of test scores from 60.000 adult learners of Ln Dutch with very heterogeneous educational and many different language backgrounds, who had completed a B1 level (CEFR) state exam for listening, speaking, reading and writing proficiency. We used one combined measure of overall linguistic similarity based on lexical, morphological, and phonological differences, while controlling for age, exposure, gender, and educational quality. The main effect of a higher education was strongest for the offline skills, indicating that learners apply e.g., literacy skills more efficiently in offline skills compared to online skills. We found positive interaction effects between education and similarity for reading and listening but not for speaking and writing. A higher level of education thus helps to make more use of L1-Ln similarities, but only in receptive skills. Possibly, this is due to the possibility to recognize L1 structures when reading or listening, which is less straightforward in speaking or writing.

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