The influence of linguistic distance on foreign language attrition

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In building upon previous research on foreign language attrition and typological proximity, this study has investigated the effect of linguistic distance on the foreign language attrition of German and French to address this research gap. Two groups or participants were tested to examine this phenomenon, namely a baseline group of secondary school pupils at the height of their foreign language skills and an attriting group of students who have not used these foreign languages for a few years. These subjects were asked to take part in an online questionnaire that contained background questions as well as four different language proficiency measures: a reading task, receptive vocabulary translation task, productive vocabulary translation task and c-test. Since it was found that attriters showed significantly more attrition for the productive vocabulary translation task in the typologically closer German than they did in French, the present study suggests that typologically closer languages could have a negative influence on attrition. In addition, performance on productive German proficiency tasks was higher than on receptive tasks, while attrition was only found in these productive tasks. Therefore, it was concluded that further research comparing productive and receptive tasks is necessary to provide more information on foreign language attrition. KEYWORDS: Foreign language attrition, receptive and productive skills, typological proximity, German, French.
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