HL2C-SLLAT Seminar: Monika Schmid (York)

Wednesday 12 October 2022, 12:00pm to 1:30pm


Bowland North Seminar Room 4, Lancaster, Lancashire

Open to

External Organisations, Postgraduates, Public, Staff, Undergraduates


Registration not required - just turn up

Event Details

HL2C-SLLAT Seminar: Monika Schmid (York)

Title: How resilient is L2 knowledge post-instruction?

Presenter(s): Monika Schmid (York)

How to join: The seminars are free to attend. Simply sign up to the HL2C Mailing List or to the SLLAT mailing list to receive the link to join us via Microsoft Teams link. You do not need a Teams account to access the talk.

About: This is a joint event, co-organized by the Heritage Language 2 Consortium (HL2C) and the Second Language Learning and Teaching (SLLAT) Research Group.


40 years ago, Richard Lambert and Barbara Freed observed that "vast amounts of time, energy, and funding have been invested to further the development of curriculum materials and methodology to increase second language learning", but that "the maintenance of these skills once attained" had largely been disregarded (Lambert & Freed, 1982:v) although laypeople and experts alike tend to believe that the functional command of such skills will see rapid decline once instruction ceases.

This observation has largely remained true: language learners drop off the horizon of research, policy and pedagogy the moment they have attained their degree or diploma. It is no exaggeration to say that, at the present point in time, we have no understanding whatsoever of how – or even if – instructed foreign language skills can attrite; which grammatical or lexical features are more or less vulnerable, and why; what other factors (length of time, amount of contact, attitudes) will facilitate or impede attrition; nor how former learners can be supported in maintaining or regaining proficiency and whether pedagogical approaches geared towards learning a language the first time round are fit for purpose in re-learning. There is even less understanding of how pedagogical approaches and characteristics of learner experience feature into the attritional process.

While there is some work focusing on contexts such as immersed L2 learning, such as after a study abroad experience (Huensch et al., 2019; Mehotcheva, 2010; Engstler, 2012) or among returnees (e.g. Flores, 2015; Lee, 2002; Taura, 2008), investigations of purely instructed L2 attrition have been few and far between (see Mehotcheva & Köpke, 2019, for a recent overview). This, however, is almost certainly the most frequent setting of L2 attrition – a period of instruction in the home country, with exposure largely confined to language classes experienced at school, college, or university and followed by years or decades of decreased or non-existent use and little opportunity to take the language up again. This context also comprises those attriters who are most in need of support, as the instructed setting will likely result in lower proficiency levels and less entrenchment of the language than settings which benefit from some immersion element, rendering knowledge more vulnerable to post-instruction erosion. It is also the setting in which the belief that foreign language knowledge is extremely vulnerable to erosion – the "use it or lose it" tenet – is likely to be most prevalent.

The field thus continues to suffer from a lack of empirical evidence, theoretical frameworks, and methodological coherence – compounded by problems such as the difficulty of establishing a baseline and the diversity of contexts (e.g. study abroad, returnees, indigenous or minority languages, etc.).

The present talk will give an overview of what is and what isn't known about L2 attrition at the present time. It will then present a new research project which aims to establish a large, open-access database of information about L2 attrition among instructed learners of different languages from different backgrounds and in different contexts and show the results from a pilot survey with around 200 participants. Based on these findings, we will sketch a research agenda for L2 attrition and show how this may influence language learning research, policy and pedagogy in years to come.


  • Bahrick, H. P. (1984a). Fifty years of second language attrition: Implications for programmatic research. The Modern Language Journal, 68(2), 105–118.
  • Lambert, R. D. & Freed, B. F. (1982). Language loss: current thoughts and future directions. In R. D. Lambert 7 B. F. Freed (Eds.), The Loss of Language Skills. (pp. 1-5). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
  • Mehotcheva, T. & Köpke, B. (2019). Introduction to L2 attrition. In M.S. Schmid & B. Köpke (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Language Attrition (pp. 331-348). Oxford University Press.

Contact Details

Name Patrick Rebuschat