Selinker (1972) noted that most L2 learners fail to reach target-language competence. That is, they stop learning while their internalized rule system contains rules different from those of the target system. This is referred to as ‘fossilization’. It can also be viewed as a cognitive process, whereby new learning is blocked by existing learning. It remains a controversial construct with some researchers arguing that there is never a complete cessation of learning.
(Ellis, R. 2008. The Study of Second Language Acquisition [2nd edition]. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 963)
I’ve been living in Spain for nearly thirty years, and my Spanish (never very good to start with) appears to have fossilized. That is to say, if someone who had interacted with me in Spanish twenty years ago were to talk to me again now, it’s unlikely they would detect much improvement. Worse, they may even note a distinct regression (aka attrition): not so much fossilized, as atrophied!
But, taking heart from Ellis’s comment that ‘there is never a complete cessation of learning’, I am going to attempt to redress the rot, as it were, and to ‘de-fossilize’. I am going to do this using a number of means, including formal instruction, vocabulary memorization, extensive reading and (if I can find it) informal interaction. At the same time, I plan to inform the process by occasional reference to the literature on second language acquisition (SLA), including such issues as motivation, age effects, aptitude, exposure, fluency, error correction, and identity formation. I imagine that there will be implications to be drawn in terms of language teaching methodology.
In short, I am going to devote as much time and effort as I can possibly manage towards dispelling the myth that language learning just stops.
This blog will be a record of that journey.
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