In this pilot study, we evaluated the use of electrophysiological measures at rest as paradigm-independent predictors of L2 development for the first time in older adult learners. We then assessed EEG correlates of the learning outcome in a language-switching paradigm after the training, which to date has only been done in younger adults and at intermediate to advanced L2 proficiency. Ten (Swiss) German-speaking adults between 65-74 years of age participated in an intensive three-weeks English training for beginners. A resting-state EEG was recorded before the training to predict the ensuing L2 development (Experiment 1). A language-switching ERP experiment was conducted after the training to assess the learning outcome (Experiment 2). All participants improved their L2 skills but differed noticeably in their individual development. Experiment 1 showed that beta1 oscillations at rest (13-14.5Hz) predicted these individual differences. We interpret resting-state beta1 oscillations as correlates of attentional capacities and semantic working memory that facilitate the extraction and processing of novel forms and meanings from the L2 input. In Experiment 2, we found that language-switching from the L2 into the native language (L1) elicited an N400 component, which was reduced in the more advanced learners. Thus, for learners beginning the acquisition of an L2 in third age, language switching appears to become less effortful with increasing proficiency, suggesting that the lexicons of the L1 and L2 become more closely linked. In sum, our findings indicate that individual differences in L2 development and proficiency in older adults operate through similar electrophysiological mechanisms as those observed in younger adults.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience