Language Development Among Holocaust Survivors

Principal Investigator
Professor Monika Schmid

What effect did the Holocaust have on survivors' first language?

Between 1938 and 1939, 10,000 children between the ages of 2 and 17 were brought to England by charities and placed with English-speaking foster families.

We wanted to know how their age when they escaped and the amount of use they subsequently made of their first language (German) affected:

  • the proficiency they then attained in their second language (English)
    • the proficiency they retained in their first language (German)

    200 oral history interviews were conducted with German-Jewish Holocaust survivors living in English-speaking countries and then analysed. Half of these interviews were in German and half in English. 

Principal Investigator

Key publications

The impact of age and exposure on bilingual development in international adoptees and family migrants: A perspective from Holocaust survivors

This paper addresses the long-term effects of being exposed to a language early in life for a limited period of time, as is the case in international adoptees. Recent findings are divided as to whether such a situation will lead to sequential monolingualism or whether speakers do remain bilingual to some extent, although they cannot readily access their vestigial first language (L1) knowledge.

Read or download the full paper from our research repository.

First language attrition: State of the discipline and future directions

This paper provides an overview of research in first language attrition and argues that changes to the first language system are part and parcel of the development of bilingual knowledge and processing.

Read or download the full paper from our research repository.

The debate on maturational constraints in bilingual development: A perspective from first-language attrition

This study argues that insights can be gained by comparing advanced late L2 learners with late bilinguals who grew up with the language under investigation as their first language (L1), prior to emigrating to another country.

Read or download the full paper from our research repository.

Perceived foreign accent in first language attrition and second language acquisition: The impact of age of acquisition and bilingualism

This study investigates constraints on ultimate attainment in second language (L2) pronunciation in
a direct comparison of perceived foreign accent of 40 late L2 learners and 40 late first language
(L1) attriters of German.

Read or download the full paper from our research repository.

Speed, breakdown and repair: An investigation of fluency in long-term second-language speakers of English

The present study investigated which factors would best predict second-language (L2) fluency in a group of long-term L2 speakers of different English varieties with German as their first language.

View the full paper online in the International Journal of Bilingualism.

Factors affecting grammatical and lexical complexity of long‐term L2 speakers’ oral proficiency

This study is an investigation of factors that influence grammatical and lexical complexity at the stage of L2 ultimate attainment.

View the full paper online in the journal Language Learning.

Get in touch
Centre for Research in Language Development throughout the Lifespan (LaDeLi) University of Essex
Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, CO4 3SQ
Telephone: 01206 872083