Footprints for the Future: Cognition, Literacy and Second Language Learning by Adults


  • Jeanne Kurvers Tilburg University, Netherlands
  • Ineke Van de Craats Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands
  • Roeland van Hout Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands



In this chapter we try to understand why second language (L2) and literacy acquisition seems to be so hard and time-consuming for adults who never went to school as children. We combine earlier and recent research on the relationships between literacy and cognition, and empirical data from L2 literacy acquisition and classroom practices. The historical review of the literacy and cognition debate shows that the initial view that literacy changes the way cognition operates was at first judged as grossly overestimated, while the latest neuropsychological studies do seem to suggest an impact of literacy on language and information processing. The available classroom research reveals that unschooled L2 learners progress at a slower pace and achieve lower levels of proficiency than schooled L2 learners, but also that tailored and contextualized teaching are strong predictors of success. This suggests a continuum ranging from concrete semantic-pragmatic embodied processing of language and information to abstract, symbolic processing at the other end, the latter being related to literacy and learning in school contexts. Two general implications for the future are formulated: multisensory integration by using TELL systems and refocusing on literacy first to facilitate the cognitive language processing strategies that are so badly needed for enhancing L2 acquisition.




How to Cite

Kurvers, J., Van de Craats, I., & van Hout, R. (2015). Footprints for the Future: Cognition, Literacy and Second Language Learning by Adults. LESLLA Symposium Proceedings, 10(1), 7–32.

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