AGE SELF-STEREOTYPING AMONG THIRD AGE LEARNERS AS A BARRIER TO FOREIGN LANGUAGE ACQUISITION

S. Polskaya , G. Parshutina 

Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia (RUSSIAN FEDERATION) (RUSSIAN FEDERATION)
In most developed countries the share of the aging population has been increasing over the recent decades and the issue of elderly people being active members of modern society has become an essential one. Various efforts are made to encourage those who retired and left the labor force to live a full-fledged life. As a result, the elderly receive the opportunity of performing versatile activities such as sports or foreign language learning. However, the latter is often viewed as complicated in the case of the ‘third-age’ adults trying to master another language since such learners often come across a range of certain barriers. Among them the fact that they are subject to numerous age self-stereotypes which prevent them from successful acquisition of foreign languages. Our study considers the issue of age self-stereotypes negatively influencing the performance of elderly people, namely, impeding the foreign language acquisition process.

Defining age self-stereotyping as age stereotypes endorsed by elderly people themselves, researchers admit that though there exist both negative and positive stereotypes concerning the elderly, the negative ones undoubtedly prevail. Currently, it is widely acknowledged that both age stereotyping and age self-stereotyping may affect one’s physical and cognitive functioning.

Our experiment engaged 27 elderly subjects, their age ranging from 69 to 75 (medium age – 72). These people attended the course of English which lasted 4 months, two 90-minute classes a week. At the end of the course, a specifically designed test was conducted with the aim of checking how the material studied during the course was acquired. Then, with the help of individual interviews, we obtained a certain volume of data referring to the participants’ feelings and thoughts about the course, their performance, etc. Initially, the interviews were conducted with the purpose of eliciting the learners’ opinions on the course taught as well as possible ways of its improvement. However, the vast amount of information we obtained turned out to be solely self-stereotypes explicitly expressed by the experiment participants, which, according to them, were the ‘culprits’ of their improper performance. At that point, we decided to juxtapose the interviews’ information and the results of the test covering the material studied.

We put forward the hypothesis that those whose self-stereotyping in this respect was the worst and the most extensive, demonstrated worse performance level in the test, while those showing less self-stereotyping, were more successful.

The results of the juxtaposition of the two variables proved that the experiment participants who were most biased against themselves and who felt inappropriate in the classroom environment, viewing themselves as ‘less academic’, ‘forgetful’, ‘less willing to change’ etc. tended to show lower scores in our test. Simultaneously, those who were less critical of themselves and pointed out certain positive outcomes of the course, turned out to score higher.

Though self-stereotypes, and particularly self-stereotypes referring to age are hard to abolish, still, potential reduction of such self-stereotypes influence on the performance of the elderly members of society may result in a better learning environment for the people of this age, making such kind of activities more meaningful.