LINGUIST List 28.3463

Fri Aug 18 2017

Review: Applied Ling; Socioling: Gómez (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 13-Mar-2017
From: Sahar Farrahi Avval <>
Subject: Language Teaching and the Older Adult
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Danya Ramírez Gómez
TITLE: Language Teaching and the Older Adult
SUBTITLE: The Significance of Experience
SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Sahar Farrahi Avval,

REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


This volume, Language Teaching and the Older Adult, written by Danya Ramírez Gómez, is intended for instructors, course designers and audiences interested in teaching foreign languages, especially teaching foreign language (FL) to older adults. The author introduces the term “geragogy” as her main concern all over her book. Geragogy refers to the management of teaching and learning for older adults and has become a well-known term applied to teaching and learning in later life (Formosa, 2012).

By writing this book, Ramírez Gómez brings the needs and importance of older people into the spotlight and reminds us that this age group is as valuable and respectable as when they were younger, and that their cognitive, psychological and social needs should be met.

This book falls into four main sections. Section One contains an introduction to the volume, Sections Two and Three include Chapters Two and Three, and Section Four is devoted to Chapters Four, Five, Six and Seven.

In her first chapter, as the introduction to the book, the author defines the scope and structure of the book, gives a brief summary of the following chapters and tries to clarify the relation between the aging process and FL learning. Chapter Two covers the most common age-related transformations older adults experience. Chapter three is devoted to an exploratory, multi-method study focused on older learners’ vocabulary-learning strategy (VLS) . In Chapter Four, Ramírez Gómez discusses primary notions on education for adults and older adults, lifelong education and the main principles of critical foreign language geragogy. Chapter Five, introduces the idea of learner re-training and its techniques and also a seven-lesson course for Japanese older learners of Spanish. Chapter Six encompasses a series of concrete techniques to be used in the older-learner FL classroom, and finally Chapter Seven presents a brief summary of the previous chapters, which should be studied by readers before reading other chapters.

Chapter 1, Introduction, as the fundamental part of this volume, this chapter encompasses the author’s main concern which is teaching an FL to older adults (individuals aged 60 years old and over) and the scope of this book, which is looking at FL learning as an experience with the potential to transform the individual’s relationship with their environment and with themselves.

In this chapter, Ramírez Gómez introduces the following chapters briefly. She also differentiates between L2 acquisition as “learning a second language in the community of the L2” and FL learning as “learning an L2 in a formal setting in the L1 community”.

Throughout, this volume asserts that FL learning is cognitively and psychologically beneficial to older learners. Ramírez Gómez emphasizes the need for an appropriate methodology which fits the cognitive, psychological and social needs of older learners . She points to age-related language learning issues, such as physiological and psychological differences between young and old people.

In a citation form Birdsong (1999), she refers to native-like reading proficiency by adults who started learning an L2 after puberty, and by this reference she intends to claim that such a thing can happen to older adults as well in spite of many opposing theories .

Aging and its effects on memory is another issue considered by Ramírez Gómez in this chapter. She refers to some information-specific theories arguing that age-related cognitive changes depend on various factors which are not uniform within the individual and between two individuals.

In the final section of this chapter, the author cites some research carried out in the field of FL education and the older learners and provides the objectives and results of each study. She concludes that studies on the interaction between aging, memory and language development imply that FL learning is possible throughout life and that new approaches are demanded to fulfill this promise.

Chapter 2, Characteristics of the Older Learner: Whom Are We Teaching?, highlights main language learners’ characteristics, namely physiological, psychological, cognitive and experiential dimensions. The author points out that the aging process is influenced by interaction among genetic, environmental, cultural, nutritional and disease-related factors. Since the brain and its structures are in charge of language learning, it cannot escape these influences.

Ramírez Gómez refers to the cognitive dimension as changes made in cognitive abilities which affect some processes included in language learning such as memorization and reasoning. The psychological dimension includes factors affecting the learner’s purpose, motivation and effort . Ramírez Gómez claims that the social and environmental attitude towards old learners affects their process of FL learning and the way they think about this process. The experiential dimension refers to all experiences the language learner has previously had in FL learning .

Ramírez Gómez draws attention to a review of teaching methodologies from 1960 to 1980, giving a brief history of the most prominent methodologies, e.g., the grammar translation method, audio-lingual method, and communicative approach. She concludes by placing emphasis on two points; the first one is that older FL learners’ experiential background in other languages has a great effect on their new experience in FL learning; second, the experiential background determines the learners’ potential approach to the lesson and independent study.

Chapter 3, Experience, Foreign Language Learning and the Third Age: The Case of Japanese Older Learners of Spanish, presents the study carried out by the author which is also the basis of this book. The author asserts that vocabulary learning is very challenging for older adult FL learners and that VLS (vocabulary learning strategy) is a helpful tool for these kind of learners . She mentions that older learners’ experiences determine how they interact with the variables pertinent to VLS, which requires different learning profiles. In addition, she refers in detail to different types of vocabulary learning strategies taken from Rubin (1987), Schmitt (1997) .

Learning experiences and VLS use among Japanese older learners of Spanish is embedded in a multi method study by the author and she explains the methodology devised, e.g., participants, procedures for data collection and data analysis and the material. Ramírez Gómez concludes from her study that the learners’ reliance on the instructor and formal education were likely to produce a high level of performance and that such studies can reveal some aspects of FL learning that have not been discovered in other studies carried out on young FL learners.

Chapter 4, Lifelong Learning and Education for Older Adults, provides evidence that educating older adults in different countries and civilizations has always been regarded as necessary.

The author asserts that in addition to concrete classroom technologies, a clear theoretical framework and philosophical approach are required. She defines education as “the art and science of teaching children”; by this, she means that there are some situational differences, goals and purposes for learning in adults in contrast to children.

Self-directedness is one of the main elements of adults’ education. The author insists that a sense of efficient self-directedness should be created in the learners and they should engage in the process of FL learning. Ramírez Gómez says that when FL learners are asked to negotiate meaning, they are taking the responsibility for decision making rather than considering only their personal needs.

Under the subtitle “critical education for older adults: general notion”, the author introduces the notion of reconstruction of life after retirement. By raising this issue, she demands exploration of field dependency and non-instrumental discipline which can help older adults reconstruct their life after retirement.

Programs for life reconstruction help older adults attain self-actualization, although today these programs should be revised and rebuilt so that they can appropriately match older adults’ basic needs. The author also introduces CEG (critical educational geragogy), which is based on a critical pedagogical framework conceiving older adults as in control of their thinking and learning and capable of further development.

Other issues explained in this chapter are self-concept, learner profiles, self-directedness, the effects of learner’s prior experience and the role of the instructor. Ramírez Gómez believes that the ultimate goal of critical geragogy and critical theory is to change society in a way that is more age friendly . She terminates the chapter by emphasizing that older adults should examine and reflect on their social situation and be empowered to transform it for the better.

Chapter 5, Learner Re-training, mostly discusses older learners’ attitudes and preconceptions about the FL learning experience and remarks that although, because of aging, older adults lose or weaken some of their skills and abilities, if they have a positive attitude about FL learning, they succeed in it. Ramírez Gómez claims that it is necessary for instructors to apply those teaching methods that fit older learners’ cognitive and social characteristics and that FL learning, in addition to being a leisure activity, should be a means of improving older adults’ life conditions and social relations . The author believes that FL learning should be content-based instead of function-based, because, through content-based methodology, older FL learners may identify and discuss issues relevant to them.

Ramírez Gómez also explores the role of instruction in FL teaching. Because of the complexity of the material to be taught to older FL learners, instructors should employ teaching styles that address these difficulties. Other factors considered in this chapter include learners’ prior experience, self- concept and learners’ profiles, each of which is explained in detail and tables introduces some main characteristics of the learners’ profiles.

The most substantial part of the chapter is devoted to presenting some practical activities, accompanied by their objectives, intended for an older FL learners’ class; all of these activities should resulty in the learners’ re-training, a process that helps the learner to develop self -knowledge, accurate beliefs and a strategic behavior appropriate for themselves.

Finally, a general assessment of all activities is made and learners evaluate the course prepared for them. Learners have reported that this course has helped them acquire concrete knowledge about specific strategies and their use. In addition to the learners’ evaluation, Ramírez Gómez ends the chapter by remarking that learners’ re-training leads older learners to identify and debunk common age related preconceptions that do not apply to their reality and to acquire the tools for developing self-directedness and learning habits appropriate to them.

Chapter 6, The Foreign Language Lesson, opens with a summary of the previous chapters; in addition, the author presents a process model for the older learners’ FL classroom. In this model, the author points to some features such as learners’ preparation, climate, planning, needs diagnosis and evaluation. She includes some recommendation for FL geragogical courses and lessons based on the instructor’s beliefs about the learning process of Japanese younger and older learners of Spanish and English.

The author devotes other parts of the chapter to the issue of how tasks should adjust the older learners’ physical, cognitive and psychological losses, such as hearing or visual losses, and provides some recommendations. For cognitive and psychological losses, she includes some recommendations too such as simplifying activities that require conducting several tasks at the same time or analyzing and defining learners’ goals.

In considering the instructor's authority, Ramírez Gómez emphasizes that negotiation should take place between the learners and the teacher to lead the learner to develop self-directedness by accepting responsibility and control over their learning process . This negotiation depends on the learners’ characteristics according to Breen and Littlejohn(2000); it is suggested that the negotiation process occur in stages.The chapter ends with some activities intended to improve four skills in an FL learning program, namely listening, speaking, reading and writing. Overall, the author aims at providing a framework for the creation of courses and lessons for the age group under study in this chapter and reminds us that lessons should be organized in a way that buffers the effects of absence, adapting visual and aural material and instruction. As the final point, Ramírez Gómez claims that many of the adjustments suggested in this chapter are applicable to younger learners as well.

Chapter 7, “Recapitulation and Conclusions: The Criticality of an FL Geragogy” gives a summary of other chapters by, first, reminding that the focus of this volume is on FL learning in older adults, individuals who are 60 years old and over and either totally or partially retired. It is claimed that little research on teaching and learning a FL has been carried out on this age group , and this was the impetus to Ramírez Gómez to conduct such research, the reports of which are given in this volume. Ramírez Gómez also explains why children and adults learn languages differently than older adults by mentioning some key factors such as different developmental characteristics. Also mentioned is the age of entering the second language community, which affects the proficiency level of the language learner.

In addition, the Ramírez Gómez discusses how an individual’s ability to notice, analyze, organize and memorize input received, i.e., their cognitive and physical condition, affect the learning process; but she provides some evidence that age related cognitive problems such as reduction of gray matter can be improved by older adults’ engagement in various activities. She mentions some research findings that older adults face different sets of challenges during language learning but she emphasizes that there is no evidence that these challenges keep this age group from learning an FL to a high level of proficiency.

Another point that attracts the attention is the case of different methodologies the age group under consideration may experience. Ramírez Gómez believes that older learners may have been exposed to many language teaching methodologies in the past which may bring about some problem for them when they are exposed to current communicating FL teaching methodology because it is assumed that these learners may be accustomed to previous methodologies. In sum, this new situation may obstruct their recognition of instructional discourse as the author of this volume puts it.

The author develops a FL geragogy and includes it in 3 successive chapters namely 4,5 and 6. Primary notions of education for adults and older adults, lifelong education, the main principle of critical FL geragogy (CFLG) and other related issues are the focus of the aforementioned chapters.

In Chapter 5, the author asserts that old FL learners need to reexamine their strategies and evaluate their habits to learn whether they match their current psychological and cognitive characteristics.

A seven lesson course is designed for Japanese older learners of Spanish. This lesson is regarded as a constructive and positive experience helping the learners increase their metacognitive experiences.

Chapter 6 explains concrete techniques to be applied in classrooms with older adult FL learners. These techniques are introduced in two forms: “a general discussion of recommended modification” and “concrete checklists” to be considered during lesson planning. In addition to these techniques, a more personal and detailed approach to VLS is introduced in order to improve vocabulary learning capacity and vocabulary knowledge.

The author, terminates this chapter by mentioning a few points: the propositions in the current book may be applicable to younger adults; studies on orientation and trajectories suggest that older adults’ experiences affect their learning process which differs from what younger adults experience; and younger adults show more homogenous interaction with experience. She also states that her current work is not going to criticize instructors or course developers but to ask course planners and instructors to put their effort into developing more appropriate methodologies for the age group under investigation . As her final contribution to this volume, she claims, “this has been the main objective of this book: to spark a constructive debate on this issue. A debate that is long overdue”.


This volume is well written and contains few editorial flaws. The author presents her research findings in detail and accompanied by theoretical concepts from similar studies. For the most part, the chapters are presented in a succinct fashion, going over the major findings in previous research carried out by other researchers in the field before moving to her own specific research facts and findings.

Ramírez Gómez has provided a brief summary of the issues discussed in each chapter in the first section of each chapter and she has given an overview of the chapters to the reader which has made the process of reading of the book easier. The seventh chapter of this volume serves as the final chapter and a summary of the whole book as well. By reading this chapter, the reader can get the general ideal of each chapter and important issues discussed before starting to read them one by one. Chapters are appropriately titled; and the author has provided tables, figures and picture wherever possible, and this has helped the comprehensibility of the book. The author has also avoided using long and complex sentences and this makes different chapters quite easy to read.

My main quibble with this book is that in some parts of the book, such as Chapter 6, the author asks the reader to bear in mind that the techniques she is introducing and using in her book to improve FL learning in older adults are indeed applicable to learners of all ages. But the author does not provide any evidence that supports her idea .

This book helps researchers, instructors and course and syllabus designers to approach the issue of FL teaching to older adults from different perspectives .

In sum, the writer does exactly what she had planned ; she introduces her main concern, elaborates on it, provides lessons and programs, conducts a study, reports the findings and reaches the conclusion she has intended. This handbook could indeed be a very helpful starting point for any language researchers, planners and instructors interested in engaging in an empirical and practical study of teaching FLs to older adults.


Formosa, M. 2012. Critical geragogy: Situating theory in practice. Journal of Contemporary Educational Studies, 63/129 (5), 37–54.


Sahar Farrahi Avval, from Iran
Ph.D candidate in ELT
17 years of experience in TEFL at Iranian English language institutes
Interested in psycho-linguistics, FLA, SLA, ESP/EAP, and studying cognitive factors affecting language learning process

Second email address:

Page Updated: 18-Aug-2017