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Merrill Swain (2013)

"Affective and Cognitive Enhancement Among Older Adults:  The Role of Languaging"

Dr. Merrill Swain, Professor of Second Language Education at OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education)
Monday, April 8, 2013
2:30-4:00 p.m.
Foster Auditorium (Paterno Library)

Global rates of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) converge in the 14-18% range for persons aged 70 years and older. One possible source of MCI among older adults may lie in teh lack of opportunities they have to use language. If opportunities are limited, then cognitive loss rather than cognitive maintenance or development might occur. In this talk, I will discuss three exploratory case studies of residents with MCI who were living in a long-term care facility and who raely engaged in conversations with staff, other reisdents or visitors. Each of these residents engaged in "languaging" activities with a researcher during a two-to three-month period. Languaging is the use of language to mediate higher mental cognitive and affective processes.

I will discuss both the theoretical foundations of the study and the results. The theoretical basis draws on Vygotsky's work which proposed language as one of the most important mediating tools that human beings have at their disposal for the development and use of higher mental processes. Vygotsky also argued that cognition and emotion are inextricably intertwined. Based on these ideas, our research explored the cognitive/affective consequences of languaging for our three participating residents.

Merrill Swain is Professor Emerita of Second Language Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Canada. Her research focuses on sociocultural approaches to the teaching and learning of second languages in immersion programs and in traditional language learning classroom settings. She has received numerous awards for her outstanding contribution to the field of second language acquisition, notably for work on communicative competence, the Output Hypothesis, and innovative approaches to second language classroom research methodologies.