Modeling second language change using skill retention theory
Shearer, Samuel R.
Darken, Rudolph P.
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Loss of foreign language proficiency is a major concern for the Department of Defense (DoD). Despite significant expenditures to develop and sustain foreign language skills in the armed forces, the DoD has not been able to create a sufficient pool of qualified linguists. Many theories and hypotheses about the learning of foreign languages are not based on cognitive processes and lack the ability to explain how and why foreign language proficiency changes. This work analyzed 13 years of Defense Language Institute (DLI data) from over 16,000 military linguists to determine if cognitive-based skill retention theory can adequately explain foreign language change. Relationships between independent variables suggested by skill retention theory and second language change were investigated. Language proficiency and the length of time since DLI graduation demonstrated strong correlations with foreign language change. This research also affirms that decayed foreign language proficiency may be rapidly reacquired upon sufficient re-exposure to the target language. Additionally, this research proposes foreign language proficiency levels that must be attained to reduce language decay. The research findings are important since they may be used to determine a linguists language decay over time and will help schedule appropriate refresher training to reduce decay or maintain current foreign language proficiency.
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