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Keywords:

  • language attrition;
  • relearning;
  • vocabulary;
  • aging;
  • savings paradigm;
  • French

This article reports on a study on learning new and relearning forgotten words of French as a foreign language in young (mean age 22.4), middle-aged (mean age 50.3), and elderly speakers (mean age 76.0). The three age groups performed similarly on relearning old words, but the younger learners were significantly better at learning new words. Data from a questionnaire on contact with French and a working-memory test showed that neither diminished language contact nor age-related decline in working memory can be seen as single factors explaining differences between learning and relearning. The decline in older adults’ ability to learn new lexical information is discussed in terms of theories explaining age-related memory deficits and conceived of as an age-related deficiency to form associations between unrelated concepts.