Richard Roberts

Richard Roberts is a Foreign Service Officer currently serving as the Public Affairs Officer at the US Consulate General in Okinawa, Japan. He is the coauthor (with Roger Kreuz) of of Becoming Fluent: How Cognitive Science Can Help Adults Learn a Foreign Language and Getting Through: The Pleasures and Perils of Cross-Cultural Communication, both published by the MIT Press.

  • Changing Minds

    Changing Minds

    How Aging Affects Language and How Language Affects Aging

    Roger Kreuz and Richard Roberts

    Why language ability remains resilient and how it shapes our lives.

    We acquire our native language, seemingly without effort, in infancy and early childhood. Language is our constant companion throughout our lifetime, even as we age. Indeed, compared with other aspects of cognition, language seems to be fairly resilient through the process of aging. In Changing Minds, Roger Kreuz and Richard Roberts examine how aging affects language—and how language affects aging.

    Kreuz and Roberts report that what appear to be changes in an older person's language ability are actually produced by declines in such other cognitive processes as memory and perception. Some language abilities, including vocabulary size and writing ability, may even improve with age. And certain language activities—including reading fiction and engaging in conversation—may even help us live fuller and healthier lives.

    Kreuz and Roberts explain the cognitive processes underlying our language ability, exploring in particular how changes in these processes lead to changes in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. They consider, among other things, the inability to produce a word that's on the tip of your tongue—and suggest that the increasing incidence of this with age may be the result of a surfeit of world knowledge. For example, older people can be better storytellers, and (something to remember at a family reunion) their perceived tendency toward off-topic verbosity may actually reflect communicative goals.

    • Hardcover $27.95 £22.50
  • Getting Through

    Getting Through

    The Pleasures and Perils of Cross-Cultural Communication

    Roger Kreuz and Richard Roberts

    Understanding how culture affects the ways we communicate—how we tell jokes, greet, ask questions, hedge, apologize, compliment, and so much more.

    We can learn to speak other languages, but do we truly understand what we are saying? How much detail should we offer when someone asks how we are? How close should we stand to our conversational partners? Is an invitation genuine or just pro forma? So much of communication depends on culture and context. In Getting Through, Roger Kreuz and Richard Roberts offer a guide to understanding and being understood in different cultures. Drawing on research from psychology, linguistics, sociology, and other fields, as well as personal experience, anecdotes, and popular culture, Kreuz and Roberts describe cross-cultural communication in terms of pragmatics—exploring how language is used and not just what words mean.

    Sometimes this is easy to figure out. If someone hisses “I'm fine!” though clenched teeth, we can assume that she's not really fine. But sometimes the context, cultural or otherwise, is more nuanced. For example, a visitor from another country might be taken aback when an American offers a complaint (“Cold out today!”) as a greeting. And should you apologize the same way in Tokyo as you would in Toledo? Kreuz and Roberts help us navigate such subtleties. It's a fascinating way to think about human interaction, but it's not purely academic: The more we understand one another, the better we can communicate, and the better we can communicate, the more we can avoid conflict.

    • Hardcover $27.95 £22.00
    • Paperback $17.95 £12.99
  • Becoming Fluent

    Becoming Fluent

    How Cognitive Science Can Help Adults Learn a Foreign Language

    Richard Roberts and Roger Kreuz

    How adult learners can draw upon skills and knowledge honed over a lifetime to master a foreign language.

    Adults who want to learn a foreign language are often discouraged because they believe they cannot acquire a language as easily as children. Once they begin to learn a language, adults may be further discouraged when they find the methods used to teach children don't seem to work for them. What is an adult language learner to do? In this book, Richard Roberts and Roger Kreuz draw on insights from psychology and cognitive science to show that adults can master a foreign language if they bring to bear the skills and knowledge they have honed over a lifetime. Adults shouldn't try to learn as children do; they should learn like adults.

    Roberts and Kreuz report evidence that adults can learn new languages even more easily than children. Children appear to have only two advantages over adults in learning a language: they acquire a native accent more easily, and they do not suffer from self-defeating anxiety about learning a language. Adults, on the other hand, have the greater advantages—gained from experience—of an understanding of their own mental processes and knowing how to use language to do things. Adults have an especially advantageous grasp of pragmatics, the social use of language, and Roberts and Kreuz show how to leverage this metalinguistic ability in learning a new language.

    Learning a language takes effort. But if adult learners apply the tools acquired over a lifetime, it can be enjoyable and rewarding.

    • Hardcover $25.95 £20.95
    • Paperback $17.95 £12.99