Bilingualism has been put forward as a life experience that, similar to musical training or being physically active, may boost cognitive performance and slow down age-related cognitive decline. In more recent years, bilingualism has come to be acknowledged not as a trait but as a highly individual experience where the context of use strongly modulates any cognitive effect that ensues from it (cf. van den Noort et al., 2019). In addition, modulating factors have been shown to interact in intricate ways (Pot, Keijzer and de Bot, 2018). Adding to the complexity is the fact that control processes linked to bilingualism are bidirectional—just as language control can influence cognitive control, individual differences in cognitive functioning often predict language learning outcomes and control. Indeed, Hartsuiker (2015) posited the need for a better understanding of cognitive control, language control as well as the transfer process between them. In this paper, we aim to shed light on the bidirectional and individual cognitive, social and linguistic factors in relation to bilingualism and second language learning, with a special focus on older adulthood: (1) we first show the intricate clustering of modulating individual factors as deterministic of cognitive outcomes of bilingual experiences at the older end of the lifespan; (2) we then present a meta-study of work in the emergent field of third-age language learning, the results of which are related to lifelong bilingualism; (3) objectives (1) and (2) are then combined to result in a blueprint for future work relating cognitive and social individual differences to bilingual linguistic outcomes and vice versa in the context of third-age language learning.
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