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Why do we research variation in (second) language use and development across retirement age?

While effects of occupation on cognitive functioning and the association between retirement and mental and physical health are well-documented across the social and behavioral sciences, there have been no studies in linguistics to date that have set out to analyze if and how retirement may impact individuals’ language development and use and vice versa (who profits from retirement resources and when). This research gap is regrettable inasmuch as communication skills and additional language learning have both been hypothesized to be associated with improved cognition – and both are affected by contextual variety and significant life events (and thus, hypothetically, retirement). 

Because the needs of speakers/learners vary, the outcomes from this study are beneficial for modeling older adults planning and preparing for retirement, facilitate sensitivity to intervention analysis and help refine and tailor future language-based interventions for older individuals. Specifically, the study aims to provide the basis for the future development and validation of an easy-to-use screening tool based on the above-mentioned learner/speaker profiles that can help customize pre- and post-retirement activities for individuals across retirement.

Any progress in analyzing individual trajectories of change over time as a function of pre- and post-retirement activities such as language learning makes a significant contribution to public health, particularly in the light of increased care costs associated with aging and the trend to working lives in Europe getting longer since 2001, with many wanting to stay in work well past conventional retirement age.

How do we research variation in (second) language use and development across retirement age?

In the VARIAGE project, we analyze (1) whether the transition from work to retirement correlates with rapid L1 and L2 developmental phases and cognitive functioning (and if yes, when exactly); (2) to what extent individual differences in cognitive, social, emotional, and motivational resources as well L1 Swiss Standard German proficiency relate to L2 performance during the transition from work to retirement; and (3) how individual differences in language attitudes, linguistic market index, social network structure, gender, education and cognitive measures relate to L1 performance in spoken Swiss Standard German during the transition from work to retirement.

In order to identify dis/continuity patterns of the entire linguistic spectrum across retirement as well as signature dynamics within and across participants, VARIAGE is designed as an observational micro-development study including 50 older L1 German learners of English in Switzerland, each of them observed in 30 consecutive waves before and after retirement over a period of 24 months. The results will reveal how, when and to what extent retirement is going to impact L2 learning and L1 use and communication skills. Also, the study moves language acquisition and sociolinguistic theories further by improving our understanding of the nature (e.g. the variability) of individual differences variables such as language attitudes.

Project Timeline

Recruiting participants and preparing data collection

Mar 2023 - Aug 2023

In this phase, the focus lies on finding the right participants and preparing teachers and researchers for the data collection phase.



Sep 2023 - Sep 2025

Throughout the two years, the participants partake in the language course. Additionally, we continuously gather data on their language learning through different tests.



Dez 2023 - Feb 2028

Processing data is a continuous and time-intensive process. Thus, this phase starts with evaluating the first tests and ends once the data has been thoroughly analyzed and processed.




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